me at 9 months

There was a time when, what would later become me, was just a mass of cells. These cells were raw biological material. It would not have been a tragedy if they had been destroyed for some good reason. While they would later be the physical ingredients for my existence, they were not me. They were contained partially within my mother and partially within my father.

One day, three “parties” joined together for my creation: my mom, my dad and God. My parents contributed the biological components that God had previously entrusted to them. The Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life – took that material and breathed life into it. “It” was immediately transformed into “me” – a life, a person. I got my soul at that moment. Where previously I did not exist, through the miracle of conception, I became the mortal child of my parents. Where previously I did not exist, through the miracle of conception, I became a child of God. “I” was created by all three “parties” as their child and without them, I could not exist.

Ever since I was created I have been growing both physically and mentally. While I continue to grow a little bit daily, every day since I was conceived I have been no more a person than the day before. In my early years I was a toddler, learning from and dependent upon my parents. Before that I was a baby, even more dependent for basic needs such as being fed. Further back, I was more dependent still – physically connected to my mother’s body for nourishment within her womb.

The above paragraphs tell the story of my life. They also tell the story of your life. There have never been any exceptions other than Adam, Eve and Jesus.

My parents were married for life, 72 years ago. World War II threw a wrench into their plans to start a family. They tried to have children without success when my dad returned from the war. Finally, after a decade and a half, my mom was pregnant. She was again two years later with my brother.

Throughout my life there have been many milestones. Some big ones include when my daughter was born, when I was married, when I was baptized, when I was born and when I was created. I was not created when I was born. Leaving my mother’s womb no more made me a person than leaving the hospital did. It was a milestone in my life but somewhat arbitrary. It could have been days or weeks earlier. It could have been later.

Medical science has taught, and continues to teach, us a great deal. Today, few honestly believe that life begins at birth. Never-the-less, for their own selfish reasons, many refuse the fact that life begins at conception. They engage in an absurd debate to “determine” the exact point that life begins as if it is not already known. Some propose it is when the child can survive outside of the womb – or to even do that without assistance. Some have picked the age of 24 weeks; or 22 weeks; or 20 weeks; or some other number. Some suggest life is too real to end when the child can feel pain.

People who are playing these games are not actually interested in understanding God’s gift of life. They are interested only in redefining its creation to a later time in order to end it without legally being murder. Many with well formed consciences will try in vain to convince themselves of this too, in order to live without the guilt of what they have done.

Catholics know that life begins at conception and that God has quite clearly commanded us not to kill (Genesis 9:6, Leviticus 24:17, Matthew 5:21, Matthew 19:18, Mark 10:19, Luke 18:20, Romans 13:9, James 2:11.

We are opposed to abortion simply because it is murder. Abortion is intrinsically evil. Your mother’s pregnancy was not a medical condition. It was a period in her life during which her body provided you with shelter and nourishment. Back when you were completely defenseless, she did not “choose” to “terminate” you by poisoning you, crushing your head, or ripping you from her body to let you die abandoned.

Your arrival into the world may have been inconvenient. Maybe your mom was not married or felt that she was too young. Maybe you were otherwise unplanned or part of a large family already struggling. Your mom did not have you killed so that it would be easier for her or your family.

Your mom may have been aware that some would say that you were less than physically perfect. She may have been advised that your life would be short. Yet, she did not condemn you to immediate death.

Your mom may have risked her life bringing you into the world. She did not take your life in an attempt to protect her own.

Your mom may have been the victim of a terrible crime such as rape or incest. She did not compound that tragedy by sacrificing your life as well.

Government morally exists to protect society, not facilitate the destruction of its members. Politicians who say that they are against abortion personally but are “pro-choice” are saying they will not murder but are not opposed to others doing so. They almost always are not only open to such murders, but work with great persistence and determination to facilitate them, make them widely available, obscure their true nature and pay for them from the public treasury.

In the taking of defenseless, innocent life, Catholics do not have the option of standing on the sidelines. We have the moral duty to participate in elections and may vote only for candidates who support life. Our bishops have again and again told us that no other issue, no matter how important it is, trumps life. No rationale, rationalizing, party loyalty or social justice considerations can possibly trump life itself. That is the firm teaching of the Catholic Church.

This is actually very simple. Abortion is always murder, it is always morally wrong and nothing is more important than life.

If you are unsure that abortion is always wrong, consider cases such as Rebecca Kiessling who was conceived from a brutal, knife-point rape by a serial rapist:

Sex scandal

Sex Scandal

There are perverts everywhere. A government report by the US Department of Education said that 9.6 percent of public school children across the country have been sexually abused or harassed by school employees. Specifically teachers, coaches, substitute teachers, bus drivers and teacher’s aides (in that order). This is astounding, yet rarely reported.

As bad as US public schools may be for the safety of our children, they pale in comparison to the sexual abuse children suffer from family (30% of all cases) and friends (60%). In the other 10% outside of the home, children are victimized wherever they are subject to adult supervision. Public schools, youth sports, scouting and religious organizations for example.

This problem has historically been hidden by those in authority where it occurred. Children were reluctant to come forward and when they did, not believed. Parents, sometimes more concerned about shame, failed to report it or press charges. In the past, laws did not require that these crimes be reported to police. Mental health professionals advised that these behaviors could be effectively treated and cured.

Sadly, like every other organization, the Catholic Church was not immune to this serious problem. Catholics (both lay and clergy), more than anyone else, found it difficult to believe and shocking that it could happen here. We were naive. Every Catholic understands we are not perfect and are sinners. Even the pope goes to confession. Never-the-less, that any priest could be capable of ever doing such a terrible thing was just unimaginable. For all but a very small number, it truly was unimaginable.

Unfortunately we didn’t need to imagine it, it was shamefully real. In a Church of 1.3 billion members (growing 1.5% annually) and over 400,000 priests, more than just trust is necessary to address this widespread societal problem. It has been difficult for us worldwide with varied legal climates, cultural norms and local autonomy to universally take the necessary steps – but they are being made.

In the United States, we have aggressively implemented background checks, seminarian psychological evaluations, strict policies requiring multiple adults around children, zero tolerance, immediate removal from ministry when abuse is alleged, immediate police reporting, extensive annual audits and more. As a result, we have had our share of those falsely accused – but we must err on the side of protecting every child. Contrary to what you may read in the press, the Catholic Church may be the safest place for your children today – by far.

Last year there were a total of six credible allegations of sexual abuse in the Church. ONE instance is too many and absolutely NONE are tolerated. With 65,000,000 US members, this level of effectiveness is nothing less than phenomenal compared against any other organization. The US Catholic Church has set the standard for stopping child sexual abuse that everybody else should learn from.

This may surprise you because you will not generally hear about this in the mainstream press. They mostly ignore child sexual abuse unless it is related to the Catholic Church. Recent headlines along the lines of “The widening Catholic sexual abuse scandal” typically raise issues from decades ago and their errors of fact for even those are simply appalling. This is the reporting while actual abuse is occurring every day, right now all around us.

For us, dealing with the scourge of child sexual abuse that has spilled over from society into the Church is a shameful, extremely serious problem. It is a problem that we have done, and will continue to do, everything in our power to stop. For many in the press, the story is often not really about child sexual abuse at all.

How can the Catholic Church be “rehabilitated” in the eyes of many in the press? Embrace homosexual marriages and divorce. Tolerate sex outside of marriage. Be less family oriented. Ordain women priests. Remove celibacy requirements from the priesthood. Recognize abortion as a personal choice. Accept that sin is relative.

If these things were to happen, I believe that you might never see another story in the mainstream media about a “Catholic sex scandal.” Of course, these things will never happen. Those who are anti-Catholic in the press know this so the purpose of their attacks is to marginalize the Church. They will surely not succeed.

Regardless of some in the press and their misguided efforts, the Church is deeply sorry for its part in this tragedy. Innocent victims have been harmed. Peoples’ faiths have been shaken by the grave personal sins of the few. In a perfect world, a topic such as this would never need discussion in a blog like this. We live in a very imperfect world for which, as always — the Church is the answer, not the problem.

Catholics and politics

Catholic Politics

I had some other ideas for today’s post, but feel this would be a good time to reflect on Catholicism and politics. For some months now we have been in the jaws of the healthcare “debate.” Players in this saga include politicians at its center, plus all of us on the fringe. Venues ranged from congress to the dinner table.

This bill was especially important to Catholics for two reasons: its social justice and abortion aspects. Catholics were, and will remain, an integral part of this continuing issue.

Catholic bishops have spoken clearly, repeatedly, as a group and as individuals, on the healthcare bill. Abortion is a grave evil and is not outweighed by other potential benefits. The Senate bill – which became the President’s bill – has deep flaws in abortion funding and conscience protections. It is not acceptable as is and must be modified. No one who is objectively informed doubts that it introduces serious new abortion perils nor that a presidential executive order is more than political cover.

One of the things that I noticed in various discussions is the direction people are coming from. I have often read or heard arguments that begin with political party talking points and follow with selective Church teaching to justify them. Those taking this tact are tempted to skip or reinterpret teaching that does not support their position and push it aside. In doing this, they put their political party ahead of their faith. That is a serious mistake and at times we are all tempted to loose focus and priorities.

Public Catholic political and non-political figures have been repeatedly in the news. Some Catholic politicians were in support of the Senate bill and others opposed. Those supporting expressed a viewpoint that the abortion restrictions were sufficient. Those opposed expressed the opposite viewpoint, gave detailed reasons why and supported the bishops’ priority of life above important, but lesser considerations.

It certainly was discouraging to witness politicians who, as professed Catholics, supported this bill with flaws so serious that it will ultimately expand abortion. Both the House version and Senate versions of the bill were seriously flawed in this regard. In the House, Brad Stupak was able to form a coalition of enough pro-life Representatives to force it to be corrected. In the Senate however, Ben Nelson proposed the same corrections but was defeated. To be clear, the Senate overtly and purposefully rejected these corrections. It is the Senate’s version that became the President’s version and was passed.

The bill did not pass easily and until the very end, did not have sufficient votes. In addition to every Republican Representative, a dozen pro-life Democrat Representatives held-out against the bill. Most of them gave-in to the extraordinary pressure and threats, settling not for changes to the bill or even corrections via the following “fix” bill – but simply an unsustainable Presidential order. Pro-abortion groups are sure to sue in order to neuter it. They will prevail by well established case law. Everyone knows this.

The most immediate failure of Catholic politicians was for some not to join the coalition against the bill and for others to eventually cave. The latter would not have been possible without the actions taken by two Catholic organizations that weakened their public support. First was the Catholic Health Association, hospital administrators basically, that publicly backed the bill in opposition to the bishops. Later a small group of activist sisters religious did also. Leaders of both groups met privately with the President, published press releases and gave interviews.

Other Catholic groups remained steadfast to Church teaching and the explicit guidance from our bishops. The Catholic Medical Association (physicians) and other women religious did their best to counter, but the damage was irreversibly done. The mainstream media delivered exaggerated claims and made it seem like Catholics were generally divided on this issue. We did not speak with a unified voice and our voice was therefore marginalized. Political interests had expertly played those of us who were vulnerable for their own ends.

That is what happened and there are lessons to be learned. It would lack charity to conclude that certain politicians, the CHA, or sisters acted with evil intent. It is appropriate, however, to work for change. We can support new candidates in November, regardless of their political party, who are pro-life to replace those who have been tested and failed. We can pray that the Vatican’s investigation begun last year into US women religious will bear fruitful results.

As always pray for our political leaders, that their eyes and hearts are opened to the full repercussions of their actions. Pray to Mother Mary that her Church will be strengthen and united.

Update – for more information see:

Separation of church and state

Separation Of Church State

We have all heard of the Separation of Church and State doctrine. Most of us have learned about it in school. Few remember the details and without too much thought, many assume it means an absolute separation of all things government from all things religious. That is seriously incorrect.

Our founding fathers assumed the Christian morals and values of political representatives would be reflected in their leadership. Our very law has its roots in Judeo-Christian teaching. The concern expressed in the first amendment was not to protect government from religious influence but rather to protect the free exercise of religion from government.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

First Amendment

This has become so contorted in the minds of many as to almost mean the exact opposite. That is, the duty of elected officials is to somehow strictly partition their religious faith from the exercise of their public office. Moreover, it is apparently now correct for the government to impose actions on religious organizations contrary to their beliefs. For example, requiring Catholic adoption agencies to not “discriminate” against homosexual couples or force Catholic doctors to perform abortions.

John F. Kennedy, our first and so far only Catholic president, made the problem much worse. Worse not only for Catholics, but for all faithful Christians. In his famous speech given in Houston on September 12th, 1960 he said:

I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute…   I believe in a President whose religious views are his own private affair…   and whose fulfillment of his Presidential oath is not limited or conditioned by any religious oath, ritual or obligation…

These were his personal beliefs, not those of the Church or required by law. To our detriment these words have been taken as gospel by many. Catholics, and all Christians, have a duty to live their faith. While it is obviously true that politicians would be wrong to be proxies of their religious leaders, they are not exempted from knowing their faith and reflecting it in all that they do.

When a politician runs for office claiming to be a Catholic or other Christian, voters assume that person will reflect the faith they profess, to the best of their ability, if elected to office. If not, why would the religious affiliation of a candidate ever come up? If the candidate has no intention of living their faith then they should at least have the integrity Kennedy did and say so.

Some of our political leaders are exemplary. Catholic Democrat Brad Stupak has garnered a great deal of attention in his determination to see that much needed healthcare reform does not come at the cost of taxpayer funded abortion. The pressure on him to back-down and put the interests of his political party first have been enormous. Congressman Stupak’s efforts are in-line with Church teaching and are no less than that required of every faithful Catholic.

There are many other politicians, while claiming to be Christian, are pro-abortion – often stridently so. Sadly that includes several Catholics in the highest leadership positions. If it were not already bad enough to ardently support abortions under the Catholic banner, they have repeatedly misrepresented the teaching of the Church and US Catholic Bishops. This has required the bishops to take the extraordinary step of issuing public statements in response to those false claims.

I believe these pro-abortion politicians simply place politics ahead of their faith. The harm that they do through abortion promotion is obvious. They also bring scandal to the Church and mislead the faithful from the truth of the Church’s teaching. Their public actions speak volumes about their character.

On Monday, Archbishop Charles Chaput (Archbishop of Denver) spoke at Houston Baptist University. His talk covered these and related points very well. He is worth listening to:

Update: see also the excellent post from Joshua Mercer: A Faith that is Personal, Not Private.