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.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Abortion Changes You - Thomas Berg

Last Monday evening I was able to verify once again that there are disasters far more devastating than the Wall Street type, and that there are also more important recoveries. There is, in fact, genuine hope out there and "change we can believe in" -- especially the kind that happens one person, and one heart at a time.

Along with a standing-room only crowd at New York's University Club, I was introduced to Michaelene Fredenburg and her new project Abortion Changes You.

Michaelene is an attractive, articulate, modernMichaelene Fredenburg (very 'in') looking woman who seemed to fit right into the Manhattan setting of our meeting. Actually she is a San Diego-based mother of two who pursues ballet and snorkeling in her spare time, and is now poised to single-handedly change the abortion debate.

Michaelene poignantly shared the story of her abortion years back, and of the subsequent struggle. "My child would probably have graduated from college this past May," she observed. She then reminded us of the harrowing statistic: today, 1 in 3 women in the U.S. will have had an abortion by the age of 45 (the rate being even higher in states like New York and California). For more background, I encourage you to take a moment and read Kathryn Lopez's June 11 interview with Michaelene in National Review Online.

Michaelene is president of Life Perspectives, a San Diego-based group which has recently launched the project. She explained how this website will serve as a resource and safe haven for anyone suffering from the after-effects of abortion.

How is her approach different? As she explained to Kathryn Lopez, her project is designed specifically for people

[W]ho have already made the difficult decision to abort. The outreach meets each person as he or she is and gives them the space to express and work through their emotions. Not only is it possible to create such a place, it is necessary for the person who is hurting or confused after an abortion.

A necessary place for two important reasons, as she noted in her presentation: people suffering the after-effects of abortion often feel they can't share their pain with their liberal friends because abortion is supposed to be 'OK'. Many can't bring themselves to talk with conservatives because -- as in the case of 'Zack', who inspired Michaelene to launch this project -- conservatives strike them as too "scary."

So Michaelene has now created a space where people can go and share their pain anonymously. She has accomplished this through her bookChanged Book Changed, and through her website (to which Changed serves as a companion volume). The website -- to be advertised on 1,000 New York subway trains on October 13 -- offers browsers directions on how to connect with anonymous peer-support groups online or with abortion-healing ministries and counselors offline.

I believe Michaelene has also created a vehicle through which, little by little, it will become OK to say publicly that abortion is painful. And if she can pull that off, she will have created a debate-changer.


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

Fireproof - A positive look at Marriage

UN Population Fund Reinvents 'Rhythm Method'?
By Steven W. Mosher

Catholic Online

The problem is, Cyclebeads are not Natural Family Planning. At least it is not the highly developed, scientifically researched NFP that has been developed over the past few decades.
FRONT ROYAL, Va. (Catholic Online) - The UN Population Fund is a population control agency, set up to drive down birth rates worldwide. It prefers to use “hard” methods, like surgical sterilization and the administration of powerful, steroid-based contraceptives. And it has long rejected Natural Family Planning on the grounds that it is not “a modern method of birth control.”

Imagine my surprise then, when the UN agency announced that it would be promoting a newly invented version of the rhythm method. This is sort of like Hyundai announcing that it has invented the internal combustion engine, which would be available in 2009 and later models. What, I asked myself, is the UNFPA up to?

The UNFPA calls its new-old method, “Cyclebeads.” They consist of a string of plastic beads, each color-coded to represent a different day in a woman’s menstrual cycle. “The day a woman starts her period she puts the rubber ring on the red bead,” says the product’s web site. “Each day she moves the ring one bead, always in the direction of the arrow. When the ring is on the red bead or a dark bead, there is very low likelihood of pregnancy, so she can have intercourse on these days without getting pregnant. When the ring is on a white bead - Days 8 through 19 - there is a high likelihood of getting pregnant if a woman has unprotected intercourse.” The UNFPA says that Cyclebeads are more than “95% effective,” and offers them through UNFPA affiliates in some developing world countries.

It is hard for those of us who have been in the pro-life movement for a long time, especially those of us who come from Catholic backgrounds, to know how to react to this news. In the past, the UNFPA has insisted that it will promote only modern methods of contraception that have a failure rate of 2% or less. Cyclebeads, by its own admission, has a much wider margin of error. The UNFPA’s own employees have long mocked the rhythm method for this very reason.

Now, all of a sudden, the UNFPA is adopting a method that sounds a lot like Natural Family Planning. Insofar as it is, we would want to celebrate it as a step away from the forced-pace contraception and sterilization campaigns, with their implicit view of Third World women as so many breeding machines, that have been charcteristic of the UNFPA’s activities in the past.

The problem is, Cyclebeads are not Natural Family Planning. At least it is not the highly developed, scientifically researched NFP that has been developed over the past few decades. Although Cyclebeads are offered by some NFP groups as an alternative form of NFP, to call it, as the UNFPA does, “the very latest in natural birth regulation methods” is misleading. Most of those who practice NFP today, including this author and his wife, would shake their heads at the claim that this method was either “invented” by academics at Georgetown University, or that it represents the very latest in natural birth regulation methods. The first claim is, at best, questionable, while the second is patently false.

Cyclebeads is essentially nothing more than a modest refinement of the old “rhythm method” of the early 20th century. This method works under the assumption that a woman’s cycles are more or less regular and that fertility can be accurately predicted by simple day-counting. The creators of Cyclebeads insist that their method is “very different” from the rhythm method, since the rhythm method “involves having exact information about the last 6 menstrual cycles and every month making complex calculations . . . to figure out which days in the current cycle you’re likely to get pregnant.” Their method, they insist, “is simple – it doesn’t involve any calculations, and it is the same every cycle. It has also been tested in a well-designed effectiveness trial, with excellent results.”

It is true that using the beads to count does away with any calculations, since even the most mathematically challenged individuals can use the beads and the rubber ring to avoid computations. The Standard Days Method, upon which Cyclebeads is based, also differs from the old rhythm method inasmuch as it is the same every cycle. But it clearly operates on the same basic principles, and suffers from the same flaws and uncertainties. Both methods assume that once a woman’s fertility patterns have been established, they will remain more or less the same as her cycles continue.

It is now common knowledge that measuring a woman’s menstrual cycle is not an exact science. Women are not machines, but human beings, whose bodies change and whose cycles fluctuate. Scientific studies show that “symptoms-based” methods of NFP, that is, methods that track day-to-day signs of fertility, are much more accurate. Whereas the rhythm method creates an average model based upon what a woman’s body has a tendency to do, symptoms-based or sympto-thermal fertility models provide a couple with empirical evidence about where a woman’s body is in its monthly cycle at any given time.

While I would normally applaud an effort by the UNFPA or anyone else to promote Natural Family Planning, I wonder why it has chosen to promote “Cyclebeads.” The Cyclebeads’ own web site has a detailed questionnaire designed to test whether or not this method is “right for you.” In this questionnaire, we learn that cyclebeads are not recommended for women whose menstrual cycles are not predictably between 26 and 32 days long, who have ever been on the Pill or any other artificial contraceptive, or who have had an abortion. These restrictions basically rule out the use of Cyclebeads for any woman who has previously participated in UNFPA programs.

If the UNFPA really wants us to believe that it has had a change of heart concerning Natural Family Planning, it should redirect some of its ample resources towards the promotion of modern, tested methods that work. As it is, it seems to me that their limited promotion of Cyclebeads is little more than a publicity stunt. It is designed to provide them with a modicum of cover while they continue to pursue their longstanding agenda to contracept, sterilize, and abort as many women as possible.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Reflections on an Election

It seems a shame how the greatest democracy in the free world conducts its presidential campaigns. In an electoral process that should lift up the most qualified candidates in an honest discussion of issues, we U.S. citizens get sniping, innuendo and half-truths. Furthermore, we actually pay for this circus with our free will or tax contributions.

One would think that the electoral process of the United States should mirror the high ideals that our democracy seeks to represent and the democracy we purport to export to
other countries.

After an almost two years of preparing for this election, it is increasingly impossible to gather impartial information on the candidates and their positions. News sources have become full-time editorial commentators. Most voters pick their news sources to reinforce their positions rather than to be informed. Undecided voters become the prizes sought after by the use of private detectives, lawyers and public relation firms who dig dirt and follow the polls as their daily devotionals.

As I have become increasingly disgusted with the whole process, I have tried to withdraw and reflect on the qualities and issues that are most important to me in a president. Then faced with less than a perfect choice, I will choose the candidate who comes closest to my ideals.

My ideals are as follows:

1) A person who is God fearing and invites a true spiritual presence into their lives and their decisions. A person who recognizes the creator and not just the created.

2) A person who has a respect for all life especially the most vulnerable including the child in the womb and the elderly person not far from the tomb. As we chose to respect life, we shift the focus away from an obsession with ourselves and onto others. Many of us have been taught that this is the golden rule to care for others. As we increasingly choose life based on convenience and self, this rule that has served our country so well in the past becomes increasingly tarnished.

3) A person who recognizes the true presence of evil in this world and a worldview that seeks to confront that evil not accommodates it. As unpleasant as it may seem in our comfortable American cities and suburbs. There are people who actually are trying to destroy our country and our way of life. The U.S. has been a beacon of hope to millions of immigrants who have made great sacrifices to come to our shores. With only five percent of the world’s population, the U.S. provides more than generous help and aid to the rest of the world and not just in its self-interest. I do not see another country so freely and willing to share its resources.

4) A consistency in the way the candidate lives his life and not just the way he talks about living it. This includes the way he has conducted himself in personal and political matters. This includes his choices for friends, colleagues and advisors. It includes whom he may choose to serve in his cabinet once elected.

5) A willingness to entertain openness of opinions and views but a firm foundation of basic beliefs and commitments that will serve this country well.

6) Someone who will encourage the American entrepreneurial spirit. Someone who will continue to encourage each citizen to donate their money and time for the care of their “fellow man”. We will always be a better country because we freely care and help provide for our “fellow man”. The government must provide for basic services but it should leave room and encourage each citizen to share voluntarily their resources.

7) Lastly, what has each candidate done with the wealth they have acquired? How have they voluntarily shared their largess? What have they demonstrated as their personal priorities?

If in reading this piece, I seem partial to a particular candidate that was not my intent. I would like to think that these ideals could be pulled out and used as a barometer for future electing. For now I will judiciously choose my news sources, seek a variety of them and tune into, what I fear, may be less than truly objective presidential and vice-presidential debates. Of course, most of all, I will be praying for this “One nation under God with liberty and justice for all”.


John F. O’Kane
September 2008

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Catholics, Human Life and the Vote

Is the right to life still a fundamental right?
September 16, 2008
9:00 AM EST

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops'USCCB Logo Administrative Committee announced on September 10th that the full body of U.S. bishops will discuss the "practical and pastoral implications of political support for abortion" during their upcoming annual assembly to be held in Baltimore on November 10-13.


And it's also been good to see the bishops acting as shepherds and teachers during this election year -- particularly in recent weeks in which two prominent Catholic politicians, who staunchly support the current abortion "rights" regime, muddled and misrepresented Catholic doctrine on this issue on prime time television.

Speaker PelosiBishops were first prompted to correct erroneous representations of Catholic teaching on abortion proffered by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi ("Bishops Respond to House Speaker Pelosi's Misrepresentation of Church Teaching Against Abortion" ) on NBC's "Meet the Press" on August 24 (read the transcript here). Describing herself as an "ardent" Catholic, Pelosi affirmed that:

...[T]his is an issue that I have studied for a long time. And what I know is, over the centuries, the doctors of the church have not been able to make that definition [when life begins]... We don't know. The point is, is that it shouldn't have an impact on the woman's right to choose... And so I don't think anybody can tell you when life begins... As I say, the Catholic Church for centuries has been discussing this...

The bishops were quick to set the record straight. In part, their statement reads:

In fact, the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, "Since the first century theCatechism of the Catholic Church Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable. Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed either as an end or a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law" (n. 2271). In the Middle Ages, uninformed and inadequate theories about embryology led some theologians to speculate that specifically human life capable of receiving an immortal soul may not exist until a few weeks into pregnancy. While in canon law these theories led to a distinction in penalties between very early and later abortions, the Church's moral teaching never justified or permitted abortion at any stage of development [emphasis my own].

Senator BidenIn a press release on September 10, the USCCB was forced to respond to further erroneous assertions about Catholic teaching on abortion, made this time by Senator Joseph Biden, and once again on "Meet the Press" (read transcript here). Biden was right in contending that human life begins at conception, but he erred in suggesting that this conviction -- his or any other Catholic's -- is "personal and private," a "matter of faith." But as the bishops point out to the senator, the answer as to when life begins -- at least the last time we checked -- is a matter of biology, not an article of faith. Wrote the bishops:

While ancient thinkers had little verifiable knowledge to help them answer this question, today embryology textbooks confirm that a new human life begins at conception [as further explained in a USCCB fact sheet]. The Catholic Church does not teach this as a matter of faith; it acknowledges it as a matter of objective fact.

In a related statement, Denver Bishops Charles Chaput and James Conley affirmed:

Abortion is a foundational issue; it is not an issue like housing policy or the price of foreign oil. It always involves the intentional killing of an innocent life, and it is always,Archbishop Chaput of Denver grievously wrong. In his Meet the Press interview, Sen. Biden used a morally exhausted argument that American Catholics have been hearing for 40 years: i.e., that Catholics can't "impose" their religiously based views on the rest of the country. But resistance to abortion is a matter of human rights, not religious opinion. And the senator knows very well as a lawmaker that all law involves the imposition of some people's convictions on everyone else. That is the nature of the law. American Catholics have allowed themselves to be bullied into accepting the destruction of more than a million developing unborn children a year. Other people have imposed their "pro-choice" beliefs on American society without any remorse for decades.

In his own response to Biden ("The Gospel According to Joe Biden" National Review Online, 9/1009), my colleague Fr. Thomas Williams also put it quite well:

The more serious problem for Joe Biden at this point is not the loss of his credibility as a Catholic, but as a person of conscience. When you say on national television that you agree with your Church that abortion is murder, but that you intend to support legislation that keeps abortion fully available, you leave voters wondering why you would support a right to what you consider to be murder.

And how!

The bishops' message, then, in a nutshell: abortion continues to be one of the defining issues of our times, and the right to life remains the fundamental right on which all other rights hinge. And they are insisting that their flocks bring those truths to the voting booth.

But as Fr. Williams rightly notes ("Don't Blame the Bishops," National Review Online, 8/29/09):

Fr. Thomas Williams, L.C.People -- including apparently some "ardent" Catholics -- seem to forget how central the pro-life issue is to Catholic morality and why that is so. We are not quibbling here about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. It is no exaggeration to say that the inviolability and sacredness of innocent human life is to Catholic morality what the doctrine of the Holy Trinity is to Catholic dogma. Both are not only non-negotiable; they are foundational.

Yes, the right to life is foundational. It is the most fundamental right. That is why no social realityFetus Sucking Thumb presents a greater threat to 'the American experiment in democracy' than the atrocity and degradation of legalized abortion. And this is why abortion, notwithstanding other issues that have their own degree of importance and imminent urgency, continues to be arguably the most vital issue of our times, and liquidating America's abortion license one of the pivotal goals of our continued existence as a free people.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Catholic Vote 2008

Barack Obama's Stealth Socialism

Barack Obama's Stealth Socialism
During his NAACP speech earlier this month, Sen. Obama repeated the term at least four times. "I've been working my entire adult life to help build an America where economic justice is being served," he said at the group's 99th annual convention in Cincinnati.

And as president, "we'll ensure that economic justice is served," he asserted. "That's what this election is about." Obama never spelled out the meaning of the term, but he didn't have to. His audience knew what he meant, judging from its thumping approval.

It's the rest of the public that remains in the dark, which is why we're launching this special educational series.

"Economic justice" simply means punishing the successful and redistributing their wealth by government fiat. It's a euphemism for socialism.

In the past, such rhetoric was just that — rhetoric. But Obama's positioning himself with alarming stealth to put that rhetoric into action on a scale not seen since the birth of the welfare state.

In his latest memoir he shares that he'd like to "recast" the welfare net that FDR and LBJ cast while rolling back what he derisively calls the "winner-take-all" market economy that Ronald Reagan reignited (with record gains in living standards for all).

Obama also talks about "restoring fairness to the economy," code for soaking the "rich" — a segment of society he fails to understand that includes mom-and-pop businesses filing individual tax returns.

It's clear from a close reading of his two books that he's a firm believer in class envy. He assumes the economy is a fixed pie, whereby the successful only get rich at the expense of the poor.

Following this discredited Marxist model, he believes government must step in and redistribute pieces of the pie. That requires massive transfers of wealth through government taxing and spending, a return to the entitlement days of old.

Of course, Obama is too smart to try to smuggle such hoary collectivist garbage through the front door. He's disguising the wealth transfers as "investments" — "to make America more competitive," he says, or "that give us a fighting chance," whatever that means.

Among his proposed "investments":

• "Universal," "guaranteed" health care.

• "Free" college tuition.

• "Universal national service" (a la Havana).

• "Universal 401(k)s" (in which the government would match contributions made by "low- and moderate-income families").

• "Free" job training (even for criminals).

• "Wage insurance" (to supplement dislocated union workers' old income levels).

• "Free" child care and "universal" preschool.

• More subsidized public housing.

• A fatter earned income tax credit for "working poor."

• And even a Global Poverty Act that amounts to a Marshall Plan for the Third World, first and foremost Africa.

His new New Deal also guarantees a "living wage," with a $10 minimum wage indexed to inflation; and "fair trade" and "fair labor practices," with breaks for "patriot employers" who cow-tow to unions, and sticks for "nonpatriot" companies that don't.

That's just for starters — first-term stuff.

Obama doesn't stop with socialized health care. He wants to socialize your entire human resources department — from payrolls to pensions. His social-microengineering even extends to mandating all employers provide seven paid sick days per year to salary and hourly workers alike.

You can see why Obama was ranked, hands-down, the most liberal member of the Senate by the National Journal. Some, including colleague and presidential challenger John McCain, think he's the most liberal member in Congress.

But could he really be "more left," as McCain recently remarked, than self-described socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders (for whom Obama has openly campaigned, even making a special trip to Vermont to rally voters)?

Obama's voting record, going back to his days in the Illinois statehouse, says yes. His career path — and those who guided it — leads to the same unsettling conclusion.

The seeds of his far-left ideology were planted in his formative years as a teenager in Hawaii — and they were far more radical than any biography or profile in the media has portrayed.

A careful reading of Obama's first memoir, "Dreams From My Father," reveals that his childhood mentor up to age 18 — a man he cryptically refers to as "Frank" — was none other than the late communist Frank Marshall Davis, who fled Chicago after the FBI and Congress opened investigations into his "subversive," "un-American activities."

As Obama was preparing to head off to college, he sat at Davis' feet in his Waikiki bungalow for nightly bull sessions. Davis plied his impressionable guest with liberal doses of whiskey and advice, including: Never trust the white establishment.

"They'll train you so good," he said, "you'll start believing what they tell you about equal opportunity and the American way and all that sh**."

After college, where he palled around with Marxist professors and took in socialist conferences "for inspiration," Obama followed in Davis' footsteps, becoming a "community organizer" in Chicago.

His boss there was Gerald Kellman, whose identity Obama also tries to hide in his book. Turns out Kellman's a disciple of the late Saul "The Red" Alinsky, a hard-boiled Chicago socialist who wrote the "Rules for Radicals" and agitated for social revolution in America.

The Chicago-based Woods Fund provided Kellman with his original $25,000 to hire Obama. In turn, Obama would later serve on the Woods board with terrorist Bill Ayers of the Weather Underground. Ayers was one of Obama's early political supporters.

After three years agitating with marginal success for more welfare programs in South Side Chicago, Obama decided he would need to study law to "bring about real change" — on a large scale.

While at Harvard Law School, he still found time to hone his organizing skills. For example, he spent eight days in Los Angeles taking a national training course taught by Alinsky's Industrial Areas Foundation. With his newly minted law degree, he returned to Chicago to reapply — as well as teach — Alinsky's "agitation" tactics.

(A video-streamed bio on Obama's Web site includes a photo of him teaching in a University of Chicago classroom. If you freeze the frame and look closely at the blackboard Obama is writing on, you can make out the words "Power Analysis" and "Relationships Built on Self Interest" — terms right out of Alinsky's rule book.)

Amid all this, Obama reunited with his late father's communist tribe in Kenya, the Luo, during trips to Africa.

As a Nairobi bureaucrat, Barack Hussein Obama Sr., a Harvard-educated economist, grew to challenge the ruling pro-Western government for not being socialist enough. In an eight-page scholarly paper published in 1965, he argued for eliminating private farming and nationalizing businesses "owned by Asians and Europeans."

His ideas for communist-style expropriation didn't stop there. He also proposed massive taxes on the rich to "redistribute our economic gains to the benefit of all."

"Theoretically, there is nothing that can stop the government from taxing 100% of income so long as the people get benefits from the government commensurate with their income which is taxed," Obama Sr. wrote. "I do not see why the government cannot tax those who have more and syphon some of these revenues into savings which can be utilized in investment for future development."

Taxes and "investment" . . . the fruit truly does not fall far from the vine.

(Voters might also be interested to know that Obama, the supposed straight shooter, does not once mention his father's communist leanings in an entire book dedicated to his memory.)

In Kenya's recent civil unrest, Obama privately phoned the leader of the opposition Luo tribe, Raila Odinga, to voice his support. Odinga is so committed to communism he named his oldest son after Fidel Castro.

With his African identity sewn up, Obama returned to Chicago and fell under the spell of an Afrocentric pastor. It was a natural attraction. The Rev. Jeremiah Wright preaches a Marxist version of Christianity called "black liberation theology" and has supported the communists in Cuba, Nicaragua and elsewhere.

Obama joined Wright's militant church, pledging allegiance to a system of "black values" that demonizes white "middle classness" and other mainstream pursuits.

(Obama in his first book, published in 1995, calls such values "sensible." There's no mention of them in his new book.)

With the large church behind him, Obama decided to run for political office, where he could organize for "change" more effectively. "As an elected official," he said, "I could bring church and community leaders together easier than I could as a community organizer or lawyer."

He could also exercise real, top-down power, the kind that grass-roots activists lack. Alinsky would be proud.

Throughout his career, Obama has worked closely with a network of stone-cold socialists and full-blown communists striving for "economic justice."

He's been traveling in an orbit of collectivism that runs from Nairobi to Honolulu, and on through Chicago to Washington.

Yet a recent AP poll found that only 6% of Americans would describe Obama as "liberal," let alone socialist.

Public opinion polls usually reflect media opinion, and the media by and large have portrayed Obama as a moderate "outsider" (the No. 1 term survey respondents associate him with) who will bring a "breath of fresh air" to Washington.

The few who have drilled down on his radical roots have tended to downplay or pooh-pooh them. Even skeptics have failed to connect the dots for fear of being called the dreaded "r" word.

But too much is at stake in this election to continue mincing words.

Both a historic banking crisis and 1970s-style stagflation loom over the economy. Democrats, who already control Congress, now threaten to filibuster-proof the Senate in what could be a watershed election for them — at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue.

A perfect storm of statism is forming, and our economic freedoms are at serious risk.

Those who care less about looking politically correct than preserving the free-market individualism that's made this country great have to start calling things by their proper name to avert long-term disaster.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Presidential candidates address Catholic concerns in magazine interview

Sen. Barack Obama / Sen. John McCain

.- Senators John McCain and Barack Obama have addressed issues of both general interest and of special concern to Catholics in two separate e-mail interviews with the magazine U.S. Catholic. The interviews, published in the October 2008 edition of U.S. Catholic, show the candidates’ stands on pro-life issues, health care, the environment, immigration, war, and the place of the United States in the world.

The interview began with questions about the pro-life issues of abortion, embryonic stem cell research, and the death penalty.

Pro-Life Issues

McCain said he is proud of what he called his “25-year pro-life record in Congress.” Professing support for the reversal of the Supreme Court pro-abortion decision Roe v. Wade, he added that its reversal is “only one step” towards ending abortion.

“Once the question is returned to the states, the fight for life will be one of courage and compassion—the courage of a pregnant mother to bring her child into the world and the compassion of civil society to meet her needs and those of her newborn baby,” McCain wrote.

Obama claimed that “no one is pro-abortion,” but said he “strongly” supports a “woman’s right to choose.” Saying “people of good faith will disagree on this issue,” he expressed commitment to reducing the numbers of abortions by addressing the “underlying factors” he believes drive women to abortion. To reduce abortions, he advocated programs of “comprehensive health- and age-appropriate sex education,” but also increasing pre- and post-natal care, parental counseling, and support for adoption.

Regarding stem cells, Obama said he was sorry that President Bush “has fought this potentially life-saving research,” apparently referring to Bush’s restrictions on embryonic stem cell research funding. He professed his belief that such research should be conducted with “the highest ethical standards,” explaining that he had co-sponsored U.S. Senate legislation requiring that donors provide written consent and that such research use only embryos “that would otherwise be discarded.”

The Illinois senator also told U.S. Catholic that he supported research into the viability of adult stem cells and cord blood.

McCain said stem cell research offers “tremendous hope,” adding “The compassion to relieve suffering and to cure deadly disease, however, cannot erode moral and ethical principles.” He did not mention his own support for funding embryonic stem cell research.

McCain did voice his support for capital punishment for “heinous crimes” when circumstances warrant it. Obama said he had worked to ensure that capital punishment is administered “fairly and justly,” saying he believes there are crimes “so heinous” that they deserve the death penalty.


Regarding poverty, McCain pledged to prioritize the eradication of poverty through programs like domestic oil drilling and higher fuel economy standards to lower the cost of gas. He said he would “overhaul” unemployment insurance to gear it towards worker retraining, while he also endorsed strengthening community colleges and technical training.

Obama said his work as a community organizer helped him witness the hardship of struggling Americans. Endorsing tax credits for those in need, he also pledged to create a universal mortgage credit and a fund to help homeowners avoid foreclosure.

The Environment

On environmental topics, Obama pledged to make the U.S. a global leader on climate change by creating a Global Energy Forum and rejoining post-Kyoto treaty negotiations. McCain called climate change the “single greatest environmental challenge of our time,” endorsing the Lexington Project to increase “dependable” energy resources and to clean up the environment.

Health Care

Turning to health care, McCain told U.S. Catholic that health care plans should be made more “portable and affordable” through “generous” tax credits, “direct refundable” credits worth $2,500 for individuals and $5,000 for families to offset the cost of insurance.

Obama similarly said health care should be portable and affordable, saying his own health care plan would reduce costs by $2,500 for families. Saying no one would be turned away because of pre-existing conditions, he claimed that his plan includes “reasonable” premiums, “comprehensive” benefits, and “simplified” enrollment and paperwork.


On immigration, Obama said undocumented workers should be “brought out of the shadows” by creating a “pathway” to legitimate citizenship.

“They should pay a fine, pay taxes, and learn English,” he said, adding that he supports secure borders, a streamlined citizenship process for legal immigrants, and an improved legal visa system.

McCain lamented the failure of recent immigration reform legislation, saying Americans needed more reassurance about border security before they could support immigration reform. Calling for “practical, fair, and necessary immigration policy,” he endorsed the creation of a system to check a worker’s identity using a “limited set of secure documents that contain biometric data and are electronically verifiable.”

War and Terrorism

Regarding the war in Iraq and terrorism issues, Obama said the U.S. should use the withdrawal of troops to strategically “increase pressure on the Iraqi political leaders to come to a political agreement.” Saying war is a decision that must not be made lightly, he said the U.S. should use its “military, economic, diplomatic, and informational power” to advance its security.

According to Sen. McCain, defeating “radical Islamist extremists” is “the transcendent national security challenge of our time.” He similarly said he would use all “instruments of national power” to defend the U.S.

Were there to be a second terrorist attack on U.S. soil, McCain said he “would not rest until the perpetrators were captured or killed,” pledging that the planners of such attacks would be “rapidly targeted.”

“There would be no sanctuaries and no mercy,” he added, saying the U.S. should ensure there are no “safe havens” for terrorists.

McCain professed great optimism about the historical position of the United States, saying “We have a chance in our lifetime to raise the world to a new standard of existence.”

He added that the U.S. cannot “lead by virtue of its power alone,” saying Americans must demonstrate the “virtues of freedom and democracy,” defend the “the rules of international civilized society,” and create new international organizations to advance peace and freedom.

Obama told U.S. Catholic that global political or economic progress should not be made a “zero-sum enterprise,” saying he supported significant increases in global anti-poverty efforts and trade deals that include “binding labor and environmental provisions.”

Pope: End divisions over old Latin Mass

Sunday, September 14, 2008

LOURDES, France: Pope Benedict XVI on Sunday warned of the danger of a growing split among Catholics over the use of the old, traditional form of Latin Mass.

He told French bishops that faithful should be made to feel at home in their Church, whether they yearn for a return of the ancient tongue or want to stick to modern languages at religious ceremonies.

The controversy is a particularly sensitive one for the Church in France, where there is a strong following for the late French churchman Marcel Lefebvre, a renegade archbishop who rebelled against Vatican modernizing reforms of the 1960s, including replacing Latin with local languages at Mass.

Last year, Benedict issued a document giving parish priests the option of allowing Mass to be celebrated in Latin with decades-old rituals known as the Tridentine Rite if that choice is sought by a "stable group" of parishioners. Previously, only bishops had that discretion.

French bishops had expressed concern that move could be seen as a rolling back of the liberalizing spirit that was unleashed through the Church with the Second Vatican Council.

Benedict expressed concern over the split between pro-Latin and pro-vernacular Catholics as he met with bishops from throughout France during his pilgrimage to Lourdes. He expressed hope that "the necessary pacification of spirits is already taking place."

"I am aware of your difficulties," Benedict told the bishops, "but I do not doubt that, within a reasonable time, you can find solutions satisfactory for all, lest the seamless tunic of Christ be further torn."

The pope was referring to the unity of the Church cherished by pontiffs.

"Everybody has a place in the Church," Benedict said. "Every person, without exception, should be able to feel at home, and never rejected."

Benedict told his bishops: "God, who loves all men and women and wishes none to be lost, entrusts us with this mission by appointing us shepherds of his sheep."

The pope exhorted the French churchmen, ranging from the cardinal of Paris to bishops of rural dioceses, to be "servants of unity."

Benedict "doesn't want dissent to crystalize into an insurmountable schism," Paris Cardinal Andre Vingt-Trois, who heads the French Bishops' Conference, later told a news conference.

Benedict's 2007 document on the use of Latin was widely seen as an attempt to reach out to an ultra-traditionalist and schismatic group, the Society of St. Pius X, and bring it back into the Vatican's fold.

Lefebvre founded the society in 1969 in Switzerland in opposition to Vatican II reforms. The churchman was excommunicated after he consecrated bishops without Rome's consent.

Benedict has been keen to reconcile with the group, which demanded freer use of the old Mass, also known as the Tridentine rite Mass, as a precondition for normalizing relations.

Some cardinals and bishops, particularly in France, where Lefebvre's group is strong, have publicly voiced worry that faithful might interpret the papal directive on Latin as a rejection of Vatican II teachings.

While flying to Paris on Friday at the start of his first trip as pontiff to France, Benedict told reporters that fears of undoing the reforms were "unfounded." The document, Benedict said, represents an "act of tolerance" for those used to the old liturgy.

Besides use of Latin, the Tridentine rite called for the priest to face the altar instead of the people, among other differences with the Mass widely celebrated after the Vatican reforms.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Respect for Unborn Human Life: The Church’s Constant Teaching

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable. Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed either as an end or a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law” (No. 2271).

In response to those who say this teaching has changed or is of recent origin, here are the facts:

  • From earliest times, Christians sharply distinguished themselves from surrounding pagan cultures by rejecting abortion and infanticide. The earliest widely used documents of Christian teaching and practice after the New Testament in the 1st and 2nd centuries, the Didache (Teaching of the Twelve Apostles) and Letter of Barnabas, condemned both practices, as did early regional and particular Church councils.

  • To be sure, knowledge of human embryology was very limited until recent times. Many Christian thinkers accepted the biological theories of their time, based on the writings of Aristotle (4th century BC) and other philosophers. Aristotle assumed a process was needed over time to turn the matter from a woman’s womb into a being that could receive a specifically human form or soul. The active formative power for this process was thought to come entirely from the man – the existence of the human ovum (egg), like so much of basic biology, was unknown.

  • However, such mistaken biological theories never changed the Church’s common conviction that abortion is gravely wrong at every stage. At the very least, early abortion was seen as attacking a being with a human destiny, being prepared by God to receive an immortal soul (cf. Jeremiah 1:5: “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you”).

  • In the 5th century AD this rejection of abortion at every stage was affirmed by the great bishop-theologian St. Augustine. He knew of theories about the human soul not being present until some weeks into pregnancy. Because he used the Greek Septuagint translation of the Old Testament, he also thought the ancient Israelites had imposed a more severe penalty for accidentally causing a miscarriage if the fetus was “fully formed” (Exodus 21: 22-23), language not found in any known Hebrew version of this passage. But he also held that human knowledge of biology was very limited, and he wisely warned against misusing such theories to risk committing homicide. He added that God has the power to make up all human deficiencies or lack of development in the Resurrection, so we cannot assume that the earliest aborted children will be excluded from enjoying eternal life with God.

  • In the 13th century, St. Thomas Aquinas made extensive use of Aristotle’s thought, including his theory that the rational human soul is not present in the first few weeks of pregnancy. But he also rejected abortion as gravely wrong at every stage, observing that it is a sin “against nature” to reject God’s gift of a new life.

  • During these centuries, theories derived from Aristotle and others influenced the grading of penalties for abortion in Church law. Some canonical penalties were more severe for a direct abortion after the stage when the human soul was thought to be present. However, abortion at all stages continued to be seen as a grave moral evil.

  • From the 13th to 19th centuries, some theologians speculated about rare and difficult cases where they thought an abortion before “formation” or “ensoulment” might be morally justified. But these theories were discussed and then always rejected, as the Church refined and reaffirmed its understanding of abortion as an intrinsically evil act that can never be morally right.

  • In 1827, with the discovery of the human ovum, the mistaken biology of Aristotle was discredited. Scientists increasingly understood that the union of sperm and egg at conception produces a new living being that is distinct from both mother and father. Modern genetics demonstrated that this individual is, at the outset, distinctively human, with the inherent and active potential to mature into a human fetus, infant, child and adult. From 1869 onward the obsolete distinction between the “ensouled” and “unensouled” fetus was permanently removed from canon law on abortion.

  • Secular laws against abortion were being reformed at the same time and in the same way, based on secular medical experts’ realization that “no other doctrine appears to be consonant with reason or physiology but that which admits the embryo to possess vitality from the very moment of conception” (American Medical Association, Report on Criminal Abortion, 1871).

  • Thus modern science has not changed the Church’s constant teaching against abortion, but has underscored how important and reasonable it is, by confirming that the life of each individual of the human species begins with the earliest embryo.

  • Given the scientific fact that a human life begins at conception, the only moral norm needed to understand the Church’s opposition to abortion is the principle that each and every human life has inherent dignity, and thus must be treated with the respect due to a human person. This is the foundation for the Church’s social doctrine, including its teachings on war, the use of capital punishment, euthanasia, health care, poverty and immigration. Conversely, to claim that some live human beings do not deserve respect or should not be treated as “persons” (based on changeable factors such as age, condition, location, or lack of mental or physical abilities) is to deny the very idea of inherent human rights. Such a claim undermines respect for the lives of many vulnerable people before and after birth.

For more information: Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Declaration on Procured Abortion (1974), nos. 6-7; John R. Connery, S.J., Abortion: The Development of the Roman Catholic Perspective (1977); Germain Grisez, Abortion: The Myths, the Realities, and the Arguments (1970), Chapter IV; U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, On Embryonic Stem Cell Research (2008); Pope John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae (1995), nos. 61-2.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Stem Cell News We Can't Afford to Miss

Like going directly from one cell type to another, no stem cells needed.
September 2, 2008

10:00 AM EST

Buried under news of Phelps's eight gold medals, Russia's renewal of the Cold War, Sarah Palin's charming debut, and Gustav's perilous approach to New Orleans, there was actually some very important stem cell news at the end of August.

Let's start with news related to cell reprogramming or "induced pluripotent stem" (iPS) cells. I last wrote about iPS cells in December of last year ("The Beginning of the End of the Stem Cell Wars?"). Breakthroughs reported last November in human cell reprogramming in papers published by Shinya Yamanaka of Kyoto University, and by James Thomson of the University of Wisconsin, Madison offered proof of principle that we now have an ethically and scientifically viable alternative to human "therapeutic" cloning (SCNT).

Yamanaka and Thomson, in independent studies, took ordinary human cells (like a skin cell off the tip of your nose) and "reprogrammed" them to become pluripotent cells, cells that could then be coaxed into becoming any other type of cell in the human body. In January, the scientific community was further stunned when Dr. Rudolf Jaenisch of MIT's Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research reported using the iPS procedure to treat sickle cell anemia in laboratory mice - proof of principle that the iPS procedure, though not ready for direct applications in human patients, might already be used to study and treat animal models of human diseases.

The 'holy grail' of stem cell science continues to be a technique that would allow scientists to create stem cells genetically matched to a sick patient, and then grow and develop these cells into tissues for use in tissue replacement therapies (everything from regenerating damaged heart tissue to treating Parkinson's or spinal-cord injuries). A perfect genetic match, these tissues would not be rejected by the donor's immune system. The advent of cell reprogramming would now appear to allow scientists to do just that, and to have stolen the prize from the human cloning enterprise - a technique that would conceivably afford the same benefit. We have to recognize, however, that while the 'holy grail' is certainly within reach of the reprogramming scientists, it is not yet in hand.

It continues to be the case that the science of reprogramming still requires substantial refinement before human tissues developed from iPS cells might be used safely in human subjects. Multiple scientific studies show that all pluripotent cells, including human embryonic stem cells (hESCs), form tumors (teratomas) and can convert to cancer cells. Westchester Institute Senior Fellows Maureen Condic and Markus Grompe have pointed out that the risk of tumor formation may, at this time, be higher in iPSCs than in hESCs because genes inserted for reprogramming remain within in the reprogrammed cells.

The preferable way to reprogram - yet to be accomplished - will be one which eliminates the need to insert genes at all. Ideally, the reprogramming would be achieved by simply soaking the to-be-reprogrammed cells in a cocktail of chemicals which would then jump start the reprogramming process in the cell nuclei.

Fortunately, stem cell scientists are hard at it right now trying to do just that. Papers published in May and early August indicate that they have already identified chemicals that at least facilitate the current iPS techniques. Dr. Condic, for her part, has also published a paper in which she offers a very complete analysis and comparison of the regulatory issues that will confront iPS-cell derived, human embryonic derived, and cloning derived tissues if and when their corresponding therapeutic applications ever go mainstream.

The most startling news, however, is that scientists might not need stem cells - whether from embryos, from adult tissues or via iPS - at all to develop human tissues for therapies. Scientists appear to be on the cusp of a remarkable new frontier: the ability to cut out the biological middle-man (the pluripotent stem cell) and go directly from one specific type of adult cell (like a skin cell), transforming it - directly - into another specific and therapeutically useful type of adult cell (like an insulin-producing beta cell). This new technique, if successful, will allow them to "trans-differentiate" specific cell types directly to other specific cell types without even having to make the cells first pass through a pluripotent state: no embryonic stem cells necessary, and for that matter, no iPS cells necessary either.

Experts are already calling it biological alchemy. As reported in The Washington Post last Thursday, Harvard's Dr. Doug Melton and team, working with laboratory mice, were able to transform a mouse's specialized pancreatic cells (that normally secrete digestive enzymes) into insulin-producing beta cells - with enormous and potentially life-saving consequences for millions of diabetics. We can expect to be hearing more about trans-differentiation in the coming months as other teams of scientists report in on similar assays. Melton and team, meanwhile, will be pursuing this research with human cells, hot on the trail of an eventual clinical trial. I currently see no ethical problems with this procedure.

The beauty of it, as with the advent of iPS cells, is that it completely avoids the need to harvest usable cells from human embryos. Once again, the proof appears to be in the proverbial pudding: the best stem cell science is the science that finds creative ways around ethical minefields.


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