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, 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.