Catholic by Choice

After Labor Day, the US Presidential campaign of 2012 will move into high gear. Clearly, this is one of the most important elections of my lifetime.  The economy is in a free fall and the sense of fear in the United States is palpable. A majority of people have lost confidence in our elected leaders. The moral decline in the Nation is obvious to anyone who has any moral compass left – after decades of such a decline. the connection between our economic and our moral decline is similarly obvious to anyone who understands the integrated human person and the social order.

As a Catholic Christian who has labored side by side for decades in building alliances with protestant evangelicals, other Christians, other people of faith and all people of good will on the issues and concerns which matter most, I know that this is the time the pundits begin to specualte about the “Catholic Vote” and which candidate will secure such a vote. I have written for many years as to whether such a “Catholic vote”, in the sense of a discernible “bloc” of voters, actually even exists. The fact is Catholics are very diverse in many political matters which call for prudential judgement. However, with the growing renewal in the faith of many Catholics and the consequential growing awareness of what their Church actually teaches, we may be reaching a point where such a ‘Catholic Vote” is becoming discernible.

Given their numbers, U.S. Catholics can determine the outcome of the 2012 Presidential election in the United States. That is if we act in a manner which, in the words of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, is “morally coherent.”  That phrase was used in an instruction released in 2002 entitled a “Doctrinal Note on some questions regarding the Participation of Catholics in Political Life”. It was directed to “the Bishops of the Catholic Church and, in a particular way, to Catholic politicians and all lay members of the faithful called to participate in the political life of democratic societies.”

The teaching in the instruction informs another important work of great importance to understanding the catholic way of viewing many policy and political issues entitled the “Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church”. In particular, the sections pertaining to the political participation of Catholics. (See, e.g. #565-574) Anyone who thinks the teachers of the Catholic Church are not clear on the duty to vote in a manner which is morally coherent has not read Catholic teaching. Here is an excerpt:

“The social doctrine of the Church is not an intrusion into the government of individual countries. It is a question of the lay Catholic’s duty to be morally coherent, found within one’s conscience, which is one and indivisible. ‘There cannot be two parallel lives in their existence: on the one hand, the so-called ‘spiritual life’, with its values and demands; and on the other, the so-called ‘secular’ life, that is, life in a family, at work, in social responsibilities, in the responsibilities of public life and in culture. The branch, engrafted to the vine which is Christ, bears its fruit in every sphere of existence and activity.

“In fact, every area of the lay faithful’s lives, as different as they are, enters into the plan of God, who desires that these very areas be the ‘places in time’ where the love of Christ is revealed and realized for both the glory of the Father and service of others.  Living and acting in conformity with one’s own conscience on questions of politics is not slavish acceptance of positions alien to politics or some kind of ‘confessionalism’, but rather the way in which Christians offer their concrete contribution so that, through political life, society will become more just and more consistent with the dignity of the human person.”

That is NOT to say that the Catholic Church ever endorses a specific candidate. However, the Church does call all of her members to inform their conscience and then exercise their citizenship. I write this article as a private citizen. I cannot and will not remain silent as the Nation I love continues down the wrong path. I believe that the American founders got it right in that Declaration and there are Truths which can be held and rights which are inalienable.

Our insistence as Catholic citizens upon recognition in the positive law of the fundamental Human Right to Life is not about one political issue; it is about the very foundation of freedom itself. Human rights – such as the Natural Law Right to Life – and human freedoms such as the freedom to be born – are goods of human persons. When there is no human person to exercise them all the rhetoric extolling them is nothing but empty air and sloganeering.

Nor is our Pro-Life position simply a matter of our adherence to our “religious” beliefs. It is a response to the truth revealed by the Natural Law and confirmed by medical science. The Child in the womb is our neighbor. It is always and everywhere wrong to take innocent human life. The child in the womb is innocent human life. It is thus wrong to intentionally kill him or her through procured abortion.

Our faith gives us further insights into that truth and calls us to a greater obligation to insist upon the role of the Natural Law in the formation of the positive law. It also calls us to active participation on the political process.  Rights are not ethereal concepts floating around in the cosmos somewhere. Rights are endowed by a Creator not conferred by the State. They are goods of the human person. Our opposition to the judicial manufacture of a “right” to take innocent human life in the womb must never take a back seat to any other concern in the public policy arena. Freedom must be exercised with reference to what is true and good in any just and moral society.

Abortion, in the words of Blessed John Paul II, is only the “cutting edge of the culture of death.” Any time human persons are treated as “products” to be used, aborted, discarded, manipulated, enslaved, traded, made a means rather than an end.. there we find the “culture of death.” We must expose, oppose and replace it. Catholics will be judged the most severely if we fail to act. The Biblical adage should echo in our ears, “To those, to whom much is given, much more will be required!” Catholics, I mean really faithful catholics, are Pro-Life-Period.

In addition, faithful catholics defend true and authentic marriage and the family and society founded upon it. Marriage, a lifelong union between one man and one woman open to the bearing and raising of children, is accepted across cultures.The effort to give an enforced legal equivalency to non-marital relations and force all of us to call what can never be a marriage to be a marriage, such as homosexual partnerships, is unjust. It can never serve the true common good.

The defense of marriage is also a defense of the blueprint for a just, healthy and happy society where children’s rights are also respected. Marriage – and the family founded upon it- is the first government, first hospital, first economy, first school, first mediating institution and the foundation of our life together as a truly free people. Our insistence upon defending the institution of marriage is also not only because of our religious faith.  Yes, for those of us who have faith, our faith informs our position. However, the truth about marriage is also confirmed in the Natural Law which is written on every human heart and knowable through the exercise of reason.

We are living under what Pope Benedict XVI called a “Dictatorship of Relativism” in the West. The culture stumbles, drunken on the false notion of freedom as giving some people a “right” to kill the innocent, divorced from norms to guide the exercise of human choice and govern our behavior. When there is a wholesale effort to deny the existence of anything objectively true which can be known by all and form the basis of our common life, then there is no real freedom. Instead, we teeter on the brink of anarchy.

September 12, 2011 will mark the fifty-first anniversary of John F Kennedy’s address to the Houston Ministerial alliance. In that speech he opened the door to moral incoherence by “privatizing” the truths informed by faith and failing to acknowledge the existence of a Natural Law which can be known by all men and women through the exercise of reason. In the wake of his catastrophic mistake too many Catholics in public life, like Esau of the Old Testament, have sold their birthrights for a bowl of porridge and helped to construct the current culture of death. Morally coherent Catholics are the ones who must now expose their errors and replace them in office.

We were never comfortable in what was once called the “religious right”, although we are less comfortable in what masquerades as “liberal” or “progressive” these days. However, though those who understand the principle of subsidiarity certainly respect the American founders’ vision of a limited government, most of us get very concerned when candidates start misreading the 10th Amendment to the US Constitution and talk “States Rights”. We do not want to see States which “allow” the killing of children in the womb as some sort of “right”. The Right to life is a non-negotiable.

Similarly we get very concerned when candidates seem to endorse an approach to marriage which would allow for a patchwork approach, allowing States to decide how to define it. Marriage and the family are not some social construct which can be changed by cultural revolutionaries. The family is the first church, the first school, the first economy, the first hospital, the first government and the first mediating institution.

Catholics are not one more “interest group” which can be polled, pandered to and bought. Our social obligation is to promote the true common good, not just use the slogan to sound “catholic” as happened in the last political cycle. Our political participation will be committed to human life and dignity, marriage and the family, authentic human freedom, and solidarity directed by the application of the principle of subsidiarity, which presents a bottom up approach to governance, beginning with the family and moving out from there to mediating associations and then higher forms of governance.

Catholics are emerging as a very important segment of the voting public in the 2012 US Presidential election.

As a Deacon in the Catholic Church, I have the joy of proclaiming the Gospel during Holy Mass. The Gospel account two Sundays ago is one of my favorites. It is also one which is familiar – almost too familiar – to most of us. I say “too familiar” because we can tend to simply stop listening when it is proclaimed because we have heard it so often!

We make the mistake of thinking it is only about Peter and the disciples – something distant which happened over two millenia ago. The fact is this story is meant for you and for me – for the here and now! We live much of our daily life in the “fourth watch of the night”, at the time just before daybreak.

Our daily lives seem to be lived in the midst of tumultuous waves of struggle. We are often filled with fear and crippled as a result and unable to see the Lord right there, on the horizon of hope. This story shows us the way to overcome fear through faith. It invites us to live differently, to walk on the waters of daily life by dynamic, living faith:
“After he had fed the people, Jesus made the disciples get into a boat and precede him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. After doing so, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When it was evening he was there alone. Meanwhile the boat, already a few miles offshore, was being tossed about by the waves, for the wind was against it. During the fourth watch of the night, he came toward them walking on the sea. When the disciples saw him walking on the sea they were terrified. “It is a ghost,” they said, and they cried out in fear.

“At once Jesus spoke to them, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.” Peter said to him in reply, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus. But when he saw how strong the wind was he became frightened; and, beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught Peter, and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” After they got into the boat, the wind died down. Those who were in the boat did him homage, saying, “Truly, you are the Son of God.”(Gospel of St. Matthew 14: 22-33)

It is important to remember these wonderful Gospel stories within the context. The disciples had just returned from experiencing the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves.

They had seen the Lord take what little bread that they had, multiply it, and give it back to them – so that they could feed the very crowd they had suggested be sent away. They knew that he was able to work miracles – and that they had been invited to participate in this extraordinary act of love, by simply giving the little they had.

After it was all over, they even collected up twelve baskets full! Now, He just wanted to pray, to commune with the Father. So He placed them in the boat, which the early Christian Fathers saw as an image of the Church, the new Ark of the New Covenant. It was the “fourth watch of the night”, the last four hours right before dawn.

That “fourth watch” always included the darkest hour. The winds and sea raged and they became horribly afraid. Their fear was so crippling that they did not even recognize Him as He came toward them. They thought that God Incarnate was a “ghost”. “Take Courage, it is I; do not be afraid.” He spoke with such reassurance and tenderness.

How often do we live our lives in the fourth watch of the night? Our fears so cripple us that we are unable to even recognize the Lord, the One who is always there, always coming to guide us on His way. He invites us to respond in faith as well. When we do, faith helps us to overcome our fear and walk into freedom.

That is what we see happening with Peter in this wonderful account. He responded in faith to the voice of His Lord. When he kept his eyes focused on Jesus he was able to do what seemed to be impossible. When he walked by faith, he walked into the freedom that comes from Jesus, the Lord of the winds and the sea.

We live our lives now in Jesus Christ and we are at home in the Boat of the Church. We can always find Him in the fourth watch of the night, if we choose to respond in faith. When we turn our faith into a verb, we too get our “sea legs” as they say in the nautical culture.

We also learn a new way of living- and of loving. Fear simply becomes a field of choice, an occasion for trust. Even in the fourth watch of the night, there is a bridge between fear and freedom, it passes through Jesus who tells all who will fix their eyes upon Him “Take Courage; it is I; Be Not Afraid.”

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On July 15, 2011 the United States District Court for the Northern District of Florida ordered that a large Ten Commandments monument – paid for privately by a local businessman and displayed since 2006 – be removed within thirty days from the front steps of the Courthouse.

Mat Staver, the founder and chairman of The Liberty Counsel, Dean and Professor of law at Liberty University School of Law and Director of the Liberty Center for Law and Policy, represented those who defended the display of the Ten Commandments outside of the Courthouse in Florida. He is a good lawyer and a good and courageous man. His legal position was correct.

The Court explained how they viewed the issue in these words, “whether a five-foot, six-ton granite monument on the front steps of the Dixie County courthouse, displaying the Ten Commandments as well as directing all viewers to “LOVE GOD AND KEEP HIS COMMANDMENTS,” violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.” Then, in a confusing opiion, simply decided that it somehow did. They were in error.

The Court  awarded one dollar to the ACLU in nominal damages. Howard Simon, the executive director of the ACLU of Florida said to a local paper, “We hope that Dixie County officials will find a permanent place for it at a church or other house of worship, which is the appropriate place for religious monuments.”  

Mat Staver is the founder and chairman of The Liberty Counsel, Dean and Professor of law at Liberty University School of Law and the Director of the Liberty Center for Law and Policy. He represented those who defended the display of the Ten Commandments outside of the Courthouse in Florida. He is a good lawyer and a good and courageous man. Furthermore, he is correct both from a moral and a legal perspective in this case and intends to appeal the matter.

He responded to the loss with these words, “This is only the first step in a march to the United States Supreme Court. Since 2005, we have won every Ten Commandments case except one. We are ready to return to the Supreme Court. The ACLU has shown in three separate losses at the court of appeals that they have lost the High Court on this issue and they are reluctant to return.”

On Monday January 4, 2011, a three judge panel of the United States 9th Circuit Court of Appeals filed its opinion in the “Mount Soledad Cross Case”, Trunk v. City of San Diego. Those black robed justices held that the Mount Soledad cross which had stood since 1913 had somehow now become a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.

All who are concerned about religious freedom in the United States should watch these cases, and others like them,  with great concern.  As a constitutional lawyer I have long questioned the current establishment clause law in our Nation. In 1992 I wrote a law review article entitled “In the Wake of Weisman: The Lemon Test is Still a lemon but the Psycho-coercion Test is more bitter Still”.

In that article, after tracing the history of the interpretation of the Establishment clause of the First Amendment to the US Constitution and the developments of the last few decades, I predicted the insanity that would follow from the efforts of the Supreme Court to apply the so called “Lemon Rule” (named after the Courts 1971 opinion in Lemon v Kurtzman) and it’s ever expanding “interpretations” and permutations. Insanity is precisely what has occurred. 

We are experiencing a judicial ping pong game; incomprehensible opinions requiring a showing that religious symbols have a “secular” purpose – as though religion and the common good are mutually exclusive. Federal Judges make up their own rules by which they decide whether a religious symbol will be allowed to stand on public land or in a public building. There is not even a pretense that the actual words of the Establishment Clause have any effect in this new world of the judicial oligarchy.

The Establishment Clause is best understood as an “anti-establishment” clause. It was intended to prohibit the “establishment” of one particular religion – in the sense of a Federal or State sponsored Church which mandated adherence from unwilling citizens. The American founders fled coercive approaches to religion which compelled adherence to a particular sect. Yet, they were not anti-religious.

They were assuredly not against religious symbols or religious expression. Our history is filled with them. Or, more accurately, it once was. Religious symbols are no longer seen as a wonderful sign of the history of the West and the American founding by the new Judicial Oligarchs. Rather they are seen as a threat to the secularist order. When they are allowed they must be demonstrated to have been eviscerated of any religious meaning and somehow thereby rendered “secular” and acceptable.

The U.S. Supreme Court handed down two opinions in “Ten Commandment cases” on June 27, 2005 which sent another convoluted message. The Justices (at least five of them) upheld a display of the Ten Commandments on public land if the display is placed within the context of other displays that speak to the history of the Nation. At least that seemed to be the practical result of the Texas case which involved the “constitutionality” of the placement of a six foot granite monument of the Ten Commandments on the grounds of the Texas State Capitol.

However, the Court also held that some displays of those same commandments, with the very same content, cannot adorn the walls of a courthouse, at least if they look like ones which hung in Kentucky. It appears that if the Ten Commandments are placed within the context of other codes governing human behavior, such as they are in the display hung right in the U.S. Supreme Court, they may be permissible.

The current state of “Establishment Law” Jurisprudence is abysmal. This was noted in a dissent in the case emanating from Kentucky where Justice Antonin Scalia wrote: “What distinguishes the rule of law from the dictatorship of a shifting Supreme Court majority is the absolutely indispensable requirement that judicial opinions be grounded in consistently applied principle.” 

There are no discernible principles. The Chief Justice was also correct in his comment in the Texas case when he opined: “Of course, the Ten Commandments are religious – they were so viewed at their inception and so remain. The monument therefore has religious significance… Simply having religious content or promoting a message consistent with a religious doctrine does not run afoul of the Establishment clause.”

The latest decision out of Gainesville, Florida is an example of growing governmental hostility toward religious faith and religious symbols in the public square. The effort to scrub the public square of such religious expression and symbols is a threat to religious freedom, runs contrary to our founding documents, and is unfaithful to our history as a free people. It also represents an incorrect application of the Establishment Clause, found in the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. It is a form of religious cleansing which threatens the foundations of our freedom.

This Florida opinion demonstrates that the 2005 Supreme Court decision of Van Orden v. Perry, a ten commandments case, made the illogic of current Establishment Clause Jurisprudence even more pronounced in the United States.  Now, even the convoluted trail left by the Lemon case and its progeny can be abandoned by a Court, under the ruse of an “exception” to the Lemon analysis, only to be replaced by judicial whimsy.

Federal Judges seem at times to make up their own rules by which they decide whether a religious symbol will be allowed to stand on public land or in a public building. There is not even a pretense that the actual words of the Establishment Clause have any effect in this new world of the judicial oligarchy. It is essential that we reclaim the “Separation of Powers” doctrine and rein in Federal Judges and Courts.

Religious faith and the values informed by faith serve and promote the common good. Religious freedom is a fundamental and basic human right which must be secured and protected by law in truly free Nations. Rightly understood and applied, religious freedom means a freedom for religious expression; not a removal of such expression from public places.

Efforts to remove the Ten Commandments reveal the current imbalance in our allegedly co-equal branches of government. They also point out the importance of judicial appointments and cry out for a new generation of lawyers. Religious cleansing is a threat to the future of all freedoms.

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On July 6, 2011 I read an article Wednesday entitled  “Lottery for IVF” in the Sun newspaper out of the UK. The article was written for the Wednesday edition by Emma Little, their health and science Editor. Here are a few paragraphs:

“The world’s first IVF lottery is to launch in Britain this month – giving gamblers the chance to “win” a baby. The controversial game, newly granted a Gambling Commission license, will see players buy £20 tickets online. The winner will net £25,000 fertility treatments at one of the country’s top clinics. The lottery will offer the chance to become a parent every single month. The game, which looks sure to provoke a huge ethical debate, is set to launch on July 30.

“With no bars on entry, single, gay and elderly players will be free to take part in the lotto – the first of its type worldwide. But critics were already rounding on the scheme last night, with one claiming it “demeaned” the nature of human reproduction. Draws in the contest will be monthly at first but could be expanded to every two weeks. Winners will be whisked by a chauffeur to the clinic, where accommodation is also included. They will also get a mobile phone so they can maintain contact with medics at all times.

“If standard IVF fails, they will be offered donor eggs, reproductive surgery – or even a Surrogate birth. Fertility doctors at each centre will use their clinical judgment to establish the feasibility of each possible pregnancy. If a woman is fit but over 45 – the upper limit for UK NHS fertility treatment – they are likely to suggest donor eggs. Should a single woman or man win, they will be provided with donor sperm or a surrogate mum and donor embryo.”
In addition to the fact that this is one more separation of love from the reproductive miracle – turning the begetting of children into manufacturing – IVF also results in the killing of human embryonic persons. On June 20, 2008 the Vatican released an instruction called “the Dignity of the Human Person”   which dealt with “Certain Bioethical Questions”. In the section concerning the deliberate destruction of embryos we read:
“The fact that the process of in vitro fertilization very frequently involves the deliberate destruction of embryos was already noted in the Instruction Donum Vitae (The Gift of Life). There were some who maintained that this was due to techniques which were still somewhat imperfect. Subsequent experience has shown, however, that all techniques of in vitro fertilization proceed as if the human embryo were simply a mass of cells to be used, selected and discarded.

“It is true that approximately a third of women who have recourse to artificial procreation succeed in having a baby. It should be recognized, however, that given the proportion between the total number of embryos produced and those eventually born, the number of embryos sacrificed is extremely high.  These losses are accepted by the practitioners of in vitro fertilization as the price to be paid for positive results. In reality, it is deeply disturbing that research in this area aims principally at obtaining better results in terms of the percentage of babies born to women who begin the process, but does not manifest a concrete interest in the right to life of each individual embryo.

“It is often objected that the loss of embryos is, in the majority of cases, unintentional or that it happens truly against the will of the parents and physicians. They say that it is a question of risks which are not all that different from those in natural procreation; to seek to generate new life without running any risks would in practice mean doing nothing to transmit it. It is true that not all the losses of embryos in the process of in vitro fertilization have the same relationship to the will of those involved in the procedure.

“But it is also true that in many cases the abandonment, destruction and loss of embryos are foreseen and willed. Embryos produced in vitro which have defects are directly discarded. Cases are becoming ever more prevalent in which couples who have no fertility problems are using artificial means of procreation in order to engage in genetic selection of their offspring.”

My mind returned to a story from December 10, 2010 written by Tom Blackwell which appeared in Canada’s “National Post” entitled “When is Twins Too Many?” concerning another trend in Western culture: “Like so many other couples these days, the Toronto-area business executive and her husband put off having children for years as they built successful careers. Both parents were in their 40s – and their first son just over a year old – when this spring the woman became pregnant a second time. Seven weeks in, an ultrasound revealed the Burlington, Ont., resident was carrying twins.

“It came as a complete shock,” said the mother, who asked not to be named. “We’re both career people. If we were going to have three children two years apart, someone else was going to be raising our kids. … All of a sudden our lives as we know them and as we like to lead them, are not going to happen.”

“She soon discovered another option: Doctors could “reduce” the pregnancy from twins to a singleton through a little-known procedure that eliminates selected fetuses – and has become increasingly common in the past two decades amid a boom in the number of multiple pregnancies. Selective reductions are typically carried out for women pregnant with triplets or greater, where the risk of harm or death climbs sharply with each additional fetus.

“The Ontario couple is part of what some experts say is a growing demand for reducing twins to one, fueled more by socio-economic imperatives than medical need, and raising vexing new ethical questions. Experts question whether parents should choose to terminate a fetus just because of the impact the child would have on their lives, and note that even more medically necessary reductions can trigger lifelong angst and even threaten marriages. The mother said the Toronto doctor who eventually did her reduction performs several a month.”

The article interviewed a “counselor” who strives to “help” these parents. She explained she does so in “a nonjudgmental way.” She admitted that the trend “saddens and scares” her, and asked, “Is this a healthy thing? We have to ask these questions: Where does it stop? When do children become a commodity?”

The woman who killed her child said she had “no regrets, and believed the option should be openly available to all parents expecting twins.” Here are her exact words, “I’m absolutely sure I did the right thing. I had read some online forums; people were speaking of grieving, feeling a sense of loss. I didn’t feel any of that. Not that I’m a cruel, bitter person … I just didn’t feel I would be able to care for (twins) in a way that I wanted to.”

Tom Blackwell spoke with a New York City obstetrician who decided to expand his practice of selectively killing children in the womb, what he called the “procedure.” He explained, “In North America, couples can choose to have an abortion for any reason”.  Blackwell ended the article noting how the killing of the children is accomplished, “Fetal reductions are most commonly conducted by inserting an ultrasound-guided needle through the mother’s abdomen and into the uterus, injecting a potassium chloride solution into the chosen fetus or fetuses, stopping their hearts.”

In 1987, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued the “Instruction on Respect for Human Life in its Origin and on the Dignity of Procreation”.  Among the questions it answered was: “What Respect is due to the human embryo, taking into account his nature and identity?” The answer given by the Magisterium: “The human being must be respected – as a person – from the very first instant of his (her) existence.”

The Canadian counselor’s astute and frightening question was answered in the West long ago, “When do children become a commodity?” They became a commodity when their killing was legalized in abortion on demand. The evil is covered once again over by deadly, loaded language like “selective reduction” and “choice”. Now, we have reduced the gift of life to a national lottery. Children are becoming commodities as the dark cloud of the culture of death grows more ominous.