Faithful Citizenship


Thanksgiving may be the most underrated day in our annual rota of holiday observances. Lost in the midst of stories about our country’s native Americans bringing food to the struggling British settlers is a more metaphysical and spiritual reality that makes a day of thanksgiving about far more than a remembrance of a single act of generosity from centuries ago.

Gratitude is the most fundamental response to life. As the novelist George Bernanos wrote in the last line of his masterpiece, The Dairy of a Country Priest, “All is grace” (Tout est grace). Even Albert Camus, another French novelist though not a believer, wrote that “we must imagine Sisyphus was happy” to roll his rock up the hill each day of his life.

Why? Because Sisyphus lives and each day he chooses not to die. (The reader may recall that Albert Camus thought suicide to be the only genuine philosophical question facing us!) As Camus insinuates, none of us, including Sisyphus or the tubercular priest of Bernanos’ novel, chose to exist. We are “thrown” into existence as the later existentialist, Heidegger, would put it. We arrive, as it were, in existence without buying a ticket, without even knowing existence is a possibility, we are just suddenly here.

What thought can follow from such a fact other than gratitude? Camus, rather perversely in my opinion, thought it raised the question of suicide. Nothing can be more natural than to celebrate and nurture what springs into existence, the way we gaze upon our newborns or the first flowers of spring. The choice should not be the Hamlet-like “to be or not to be” but rather “how to be.”

Each day is a gift — life, as we know it, can suddenly or slowly be taken from us, or from those we love, or from those who are strangers but for whom we feel sadness at their loss. I’m told by my doctors and nurses that I am now a “cancer survivor,” having been through surgery, hormone, and radiation treatments this past year. At first I chuckled at the suggestion that I was considered a “survivor” from the day I was diagnosed with prostate cancer. But as time passed I gradually understood the appellation — I was a survivor because I was alive in the face of something that could have taken my life without my first recognizing it, like being killed by a driver who doesn’t see a red light.

Thanksgiving is the day of the year on which we celebrate the most basic fact about our shared existence, that it is a gift, that it doesn’t belong to us, and it never will. “How to be” at Thanksgiving? Eat well, sing heartily, tell (not too) bawdy jokes, dance to the music you love, and be glad that you, once again, are at the Thanksgiving table.


It started when Lawrence O’Donnell posted on his MSNBC blog that Gov. Perry was “married” to the notion that Catholicism was a “cult.”  His argument, if you can call it that, was based upon the presence of Pastor John Hagee at Perry’s prayer service, “The Response” on August 6.  John McCain was criticized by Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League, during the 2008 presidential campaign for accepting the endorsement of Hagee who Donohue considered anti-Catholic.

If the story had stopped there, O’Donnell and his imitators would not be guilty of ignoring the subsequent reconciliation between Hagee and Donohue and, most importantly, the May 13, 2008 statement issued by the Catholic League where Donohue said, “The case is closed.”

Here is all of what Donohue said:

“After weeks of meeting with various Catholic leaders, and accessing scholarly literature on Catholic-Jewish relations, Pastor John Hagee has demonstrated an improved understanding of the Catholic Church and its history. In his letter to me, Hagee says, ‘I want to express my deep regret for any comments that Catholics have found hurtful.’ He specifically cites his emphasis of ‘the darkest chapters in the history of Catholic and Protestant relations with the Jews,’ and has pledged to provide a more complete and balanced portrayal going forward that will not reinforce mischaracterizations of the Catholic Church. And while he stresses that his invocation of terms like ‘apostate church’ and the ‘great whore’ were never meant by him to describe the Catholic Church, he acknowledges that anti-Catholics have long employed such language.

“The tone of Hagee’s letter is sincere. He wants reconciliation, and he has achieved it. Indeed, the Catholic League welcomes his apology. What Hagee has done takes courage, and quite frankly, I never expected him to demonstrate such sensitivity to our concerns. But he has done just that. Now Catholics, along with Jews, can work with Pastor Hagee in making interfaith relations stronger than ever. Whatever problems we had before are now history. This case is closed.”

As Wayne Slater reports in the Dallas Morning News, I had a role in bringing Hagee and Donohue together, as well as introducing Hagee to another group of Catholic leaders over lunch in Washington, DC.  The meeting that took place at the Catholic League’s office in New York City was reported by Slater as well as a number of other major media outlets.

I wrote of my relationship with Pastor Hagee and the meeting with Bill Donohue in a column entitled, “Taking Time to Act Like Christians.”

I said of media attempts to spin the meeting as a pure political ploy:

“When the reporters called later to ask about the meeting, they wanted to know if it had been arranged to help the McCain campaign. When I responded that it was arranged for personal reasons and out of a concern for relations between Catholics and Evangelicals, I met with skepticism. The media either assumes that every event has a political cause, or that there’s no story unless it is political. The fact is, what I witnessed that day was one of the most remarkable moments of Christian reconciliation I am likely to ever see. There was nothing political or partisan about it.”

Perhaps O’Donnell didn’t follow the Hagee/McCain/Donohue story to its conclusion. If so, let me reiterate, Pastor Hagee is not anti-Catholic.  In the weeks prior to his meeting with Bill Donohue, I talked with Pastor Hagee on several occasions about the Catholic Church, about his published works, as well as various videos to be found on the Internet.  We specifically discussed his interpretation of the Book of Revelation and his view of the presence of antisemitism in the Catholic Church. These issues were also brought up to Hagee at the DC lunch with a dozen Catholic leaders.

The political Left would like nothing better than to divide pro-life/marriage Catholics from Evangelicals as we head toward the 2012 election.  No doubt, the energy being generated among the grassroots by the prospect of Perry entering the race is bad news for those who pray that Obama can hold onto the White House.  Let’s hope this attempt dies a quick death, given it is another attempt to besmirch the reputation of a good man who walked the extra mile to make friends with his Catholic brethren.

Dr. Warren Carroll, the founder of Christendom College and the author of many influential books on Catholicism passed away on Sunday.

During the period when almost all the nation’s Catholic colleges and universities were losing their religious identity, Dr. Carroll took the bold step of founding an entirely new institution in Front Royal, VA, Christendom College which he led as president from 1977 to 1985.

A convert to the Catholic faith in 1968, Dr. Carroll received his Ph.D. in history from Columbia University.

Prior to his academic career, Dr. Carroll was a Communist propaganda analyst for the Central Intelligence Agency. His Seventy Years of the Communist Revolution (updated and re-released as The Rise and Fall of the Communist Revolution) was a product of those years.

Among Dr. Carroll’s many books include a six-volume history of Christendom, Our Lady of Guadalupe and the Conquest of Darkness, The Guillotine & the Cross, Isabel of Spain: The Catholic Queen, and The Last Crusade.  This profile of Dr. Carroll from the Christendom College web site provides a complete bibliography.

But Dr. Warren Carroll’s greatest legacy will not be his prodigious record as an author, but the lives of the thousands of men and women who have either worked, taught, or graduated from Christendom College.  These men and women have gone on to serve the Church in extraordinary ways, from entering the priesthood and the religious life, to careers in education, journalism, politics, and business.

Even more, however, the families of Christendom graduates have become beacons of joyful orthodoxy across the country but especially in Northern Virginia and the metropolitan area of Washington, DC.

Dr. Carroll is survived by his wife Anne, herself a noted author and founder of Seton Home Study School and Seton Junior & Senior High School in Manassas, Virginia.

The Church owes both Dr. Carroll, and his wife Anne, an immense debt of gratitude.

Requiescat in pace!






The 2008 “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship” was published by the Catholic bishops as a guide for the voters.  The bishops re-publish this document every four years, always with some sort of revisions. Matt Smith and I have posed an important question for the bishops to answer in the 2012 version — which will be approved at the upcoming annual meeting of the bishops in November.

The reason for this question is summarized by problems found in Sections 34-37 of the document. These sections contain three loopholes allowing Catholic voters to support pro-abortion politicians:

1) If they do not intend to support that position (34), or

2) if there are offsetting “morally grave reasons” (35), or

3) if a candidate will pursue “authentic human goods” rather than the “morally-flawed” position he holds (36).

After positing these loopholes, how can the bishops expect Catholic voters to make sense of the following paragraph, Section 37:

“In making these decisions, it is essential for Catholics to be guided by a well-formed conscience that recognizes that all issues do not carry the same moral weight and that the moral obligation to oppose intrinsically evil acts has a special claim on our consciences and our actions. These decisions should take into account a candidate’s commitments, character, integrity, and ability to influence a given issue.” [emphasis added]

Why should a Catholic voter feel the weighty obligation to oppose “intrinsically evil acts” when the bishops themselves provide three different loopholes to put that concern aside?

These loopholes, as we call them, lead to the following question the bishops should answer in the 2012 version of “Faithful Citizenship”:

What are the “grave moral” or “proportionate” reasons that would justify a Catholic voting for a pro-abortion candidate?

Those Catholics who publicly supported pro-abortion politicians in 2008 made use of these loopholes in their political outreach. If these sections are not clarified by the bishops in November there will be a loud cry — asking ‘why?’ — from Catholics across the nation.

Read the entire column by clicking here.