The Place Where Abortion is Illegal

Ireland voted to nullify its constitutional amendment protecting the unborn. Most people see this as: Huge victory for modern liberal ways. Huge defeat for traditional Catholicism.

cathleen-kavenyProfessor Cathleen Kaveny wants to see it differently. She has written a brief essay in Commonweal magazine that 1. lays out some moral realities about as clearly as you can and then 2. neglects to face them with real love.

Kaveny thinks that Roe v. Wade framed the moral issue in the wrong way. The court based its decision on the idea that the unborn child is not a person, at least not in the eyes of the law. To summarize Part IX of Justice Blackmun’s opinion for the Court: The unborn are not “persons,” as the word is used in the US Constitution. If they were, then the case arguing a right to abortion would “collapse.”

Kaveny thinks focusing on the personhood of the unborn child warps the argument, like this:

Pro-life = Yes, the unborn child is a person with the right to life. Therefore, abortion is homicide.

Pro-choice = No, the unborn child is not a person. Therefore, the mother’s right to make decisions about her own body can include a decision to abort a pregnancy.

Kaveny wants to frame the issue differently. In my book, she makes an enormously helpful set of points. First, let’s all, “pro-life” and “pro-choice,” concede the following:

1. Abortion involves taking the life of an individual human being.

2. That individual depends completely on the mother. Providing for a totally dependent unborn child imposes great burdens on the mother.

Amen.

All the pro-lifers I know would agree: We don’t want any pro-life ‘allies’ who do not sympathize with the difficulties faced by pregnant women. Yes, the child has a right to life; no doubt. But that “right” has no meaning without the sacrifice of the mother. The real pro-life movement has no interest whatsoever in getting ‘in between’ the baby and the mother. As the old slogan has it: Love them both.

unbornCareful Catholic bio-ethical thinking long ago fully grasped this at its depths. Turning the “right to life” of the unborn child into some kind of absolute value leads you to an unpleasant place: Mother Nature Herself does not respect this right.

Many pregnancies end in miscarriage, a.k.a. spontaneous abortion. Many fertilized eggs never implant in the uterus. That means countless human beings in the first stage of life who disappear into a dark oblivion, with only God and His angels ever having known that they existed.

Kaveny gets it wonderfully right here. The problem of procured abortion is not, ultimately, a metaphysical matter. We have to focus solely on the simple moral question. Can it be right to choose to have an abortion?

At this point in her essay, Kaveny leaves us with only a handful of dust. She suggests that the Church, without having a ready answer to the question above, should rather “accompany” our contemporaries who think the answer is Yes. We should take the risk of “having conversations.”

Now, I am confident in saying that most of us priests with some years of experience under our belts have had quite a few conversations. ‘Father, the child will be born with a handicap.’ ‘Father, I’m pregnant with my boyfriend’s baby, but I want to go to college.’ ‘Father, he ran away with the hygienist. But I’m pregnant with our fourth.’

Now, if we (priests and all Christian believers) don’t patiently listen, sympathize, and offer support and helpful proposals, we s**k. But, by the same token, no honest moral calculus exists which could include a proposal that aborting the baby might be the right thing to do.

Because the baby is, manifestly, a baby, and not a Volkswagen. And it is this mother’s baby. The mother’s life, and the baby’s, are already entwined in such a way that violence against the one is ipso facto violence against the other.

To countenance the idea that abortion could be the right thing to do–that would involve a failure of charity towards both baby and mother. Just like refusing to sympathize with the burdens faced by the mother would involve a failure of charity towards both of them.

Kaveny rightly points out that the law fears to tread into the territory where blameworthy homicide and justifiable withdrawal of life-support come so close that they almost touch each other.

But she misses the one absolutely certain thing, the principle that can and does lead in the direction of a resolution of all the problems involved in any pregnancy: Intentionally killing the baby is not the right thing to do.

We human beings cannot see into the future. We can only make decisions based on our best lights right now.

I have argued for most of my life that we do not need faith in order to know that abortion is wrong, since sonograms clearly show us that is is.

But, on the other hand, it is faith that protects us from the hubris that justifies abortion, based on uncertain predictions about the future. Every line of thinking that leads to the idea that abortion could be the right thing to do–all of them start with fear of the future. From that fear of the future comes the compulsive attempt to control it, through violence.

If you read my review of Ross Douthat’s book about Pope Francis, you know that I deeply reject the distinction between “modern liberal” and “traditional Catholic.” But Kaveny’s essay actually leads us to a place where that distinction touches something real and stark.

Holding the faith of the Church means believing that God will provide. Abortion offers a false promise about controlling the future. In the Church of Christ, we must have the courage to say, in every case: God has a real future for you and your baby.

 

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“Doesn’t Speak Too Well of the United States”

(Archbishop of San Antonio, Texas)

Click HERE for a way to contact public officials about this.

Higher Loyalty

Comey Trump

The rule of law. Former FBI Director James Comey has dedicated his life to it. He became a lawyer and a prosecutor. He followed a calling to pursue justice.

We Americans love tv shows about law-enforcement and criminal prosecution. We rightly respect the vocation of people like James Comey. Public servants dedicated to the rule of law: they keep our country from descending into a chaos in which bullies rule.

My dear mom lent me her copy of Comey’s book, A Higher Loyalty. I tore through it. I feel a kind of brotherhood with the man, since we have two things in common: A tendency to bang our heads on door lintels, and an unexpected job transition at the same time last year.

As a US Attorney, Comey worked to convict gangsters and stock-market cheats, like Martha Stewart. Then he ascended to the highest echelons of the Justice Department. When the practice of torturing terror suspects became public in 2004, Comey took a stand against the George W. Bush White House. Because the law is the law, and it prohibits torture.

Comey A Higher Loyalty bookIn 2013, President Obama made Comey the head of the FBI. Comey writes about how he undertook to make the organization more open and communicative, a place where everyone could believe in the cause.

Meanwhile, some other things happened.

Former President Bill Clinton’s wife Hillary traded on her political connections and became a Senator from a state to which she had no real ties. Then she became Secretary of State. Finally, she ran for president and secured the nomination of the Democratic party.

A sober body politic would have recognized this nomination for what it was: A triumph of cronyism, insider-ism. Not a feminist breakthrough.

But the body politic proved itself far from sober. The other major party nominated a notorious liar–a shameless publicity hound, a wounded ego without any real accomplishments to his name.

It is no wonder, then, that a such a devotee of American ideals like James Comey would find himself at a loss during the summer and fall of 2016. In his book, he recounts how his mind jibbed and gybed, trying to figure out how to handle FBI public relations.

The agency had to investigate Hillary Clinton’s “careless” e-mailing as Secretary of State. Also: the Bureau had suspicions of Russian attempts to influence the American presidential election by stealing private e-mail exchanges and hijacking facebook feeds.

In Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the ‘rude mechanicals’ (a group of Athenian working men) aspire to please the Duke with a stage play. They intend to present the tragic love story of ancient myth, Pyramus and Thisbe.

The Mechanicals meet by night, in the woods outside the city, to determine their roles and begin rehearsing. But Nick Bottom, the weaver, wants to play all the parts. He wants to play both Pyramus and Thisbe. When he learns that a lion comes on stage, he wants to play the lion, too.

During 2016, James Comey became a kind of Nick Bottom. He had the part of FBI Director, a low-profile part, with very few lines. His role involved speaking only to his superiors in the Department of Justice and the Oval Office. And only about hard evidence, not political exigencies.

But Comey decided that Attorney General Loretta Lynch did not have enough credibility to tell the public about “Hillary’s damn e-mails” (as Bernie Sanders put it). Comey concluded that the troubled nation would not believe that the e-mailing didn’t involve any crimes, unless he delivered the message.

So Comey took the stage to speak the lines of someone else’s part. Then, three months later, he had to take it back. Then, ten days after that, he had to take back the taking back.

Comey also wanted personally to go to the press about the suspected Russian election hacking. But President Obama managed to talk him out of doing that, just like Peter Quince managed to talk Bottom the weaver out of playing the lion, and Pyramus, and Thisbe, all at the same time.

shakespeareTestifying before Congress in early 2017, Comey said that he felt “nauseated” at the thought that his public statements of 2016 somehow affected the outcome of the presidential election.

Problem is: He nauseated himself. He could have just kept his mouth shut, speaking only in the private fora where he had a duty to speak. But that option appears not to have occurred to him.

The fundamental idea of Comey’s book is: We Americans owe our loyalty to something higher than any political leader. Not to “partisan interests” but “to the pillars of democracy.” Comey enumerates those pillars as: “restraint and integrity and balance and transparency and truth.”

Speaking of the virtue of restraint: This past Thursday, the Inspector General released a report. They agreed with me. It’s official: Comey put himself in front of a microphone too often in 2016. (In the book, Comey mocks Rudy Guiliani for the same offense, ironically enough.)

Comey, as is his wont, immediately took to Thursday’s The New York Times to welcome the criticism, even though he disagrees with it. The work of an Inspector General involves the pursuit of the rule of law, the very thing he wrote his book to vindicate, etc.

Amen to all that. We all have egos that should be smaller, not just James Comey. And all our egos will indeed get a lot smaller when the Inspector General, Who sees and knows all, and Who weighs everything with perfect justice, makes His findings public, on the great and final Day.

Comey deserves a lot of credit for writing a fundamentally honest book. And he wrote a page-turner. The passages about his dealings with President Trump during the winter and spring of 2017 read like a movie. If the Trump administration were a movie, Comey would name it: “The Forest Fire Presidency.”

Trump secretly asked for Comey’s “loyalty” (hence the book title.) Comey didn’t know what to say. So the president soon fired him. Now, Trump calls Comey “the worst FBI Director ever.” Which means worse than J. Edgar Hoover, who suspected Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., of being a secret communist, and had his phones bugged.

Comey characterizes the president as a kind of Mafia don. But Mafia dons have good organizational skills. To me, Trump looks a lot more like: a clueless, desperately unhappy fourteen-year-old boy maniacally masquerading as a grown man.

Comey almost certainly wrote his book to try and fulfill the teachings of his intellectual hero, theologian Reinhold Niebuhr. Neibuhr spoke and wrote repeatedly on 20th-century political questions. Neibuhr insisted that a Christian must seek to further the cause of justice in the world by talking part in public life.

Let’s leave aside the fact that Niebuhr would undoubtedly find Comey’s book blindly self-serving. The deeper problem is this: Neibuhr and Comey both share a false presupposition. Namely that “loyalty to truth” occurs in some pure realm where you can leave practical questions about religion unanswered. Basic questions of Christian practice, like: Did God write the Scriptures? Or: Is Jesus Christ alive right now? But that’s a topic for another day.

Comey and I agree on this: In November 2016, we, as a nation, found ourselves choosing between two candidates for president, neither of whom could claim with any real honesty to be worthy of the office.

How did we get there? We have had plenty of unworthy presidents before, to be sure. But we also had a Civil War before.

The post-World-War II “consensus” about the American presidency had serious flaws. Including the kind of megalomania that led us into unnecessary bloodbaths in Vietnam and Iraq. Or a self-righteous “solution” to our domestic race problems that didn’t really solve them at all.

But now we have totally wrecked that 20th-century consensus about who we are as a nation. We elected an unqualified, immature, dishonest president. We find ourselves barrelling down a blind alley.

Reinhold Neibuhr would be the first to point out that: In this fallen world, blind alleys usually harbor very dangerous, unhappy things in their unexplored shadows. I for one think that James Comey is absolutely right to speak out.

Who Will Give the Concession Speech?

Elections usually end with a concession speech. The defeated candidate acknowledges that the voters have chosen his or her opponent. The loser of the election promises to abide by the choice of the voters. The contest ends.

But who will concede the Irish referendum? Can the unborn children whose lives now stand in danger–can these little ones take to the microphones to acknowledge that the voters have chosen to grant abortionists the authority to kill them with impunity?

____

Pope Benedict wrote some penetrating, wise things to the Catholics of Ireland in the spring of 2010. He tried to help them recover from devastating revelations about pervasive child-sex-abuse cover-ups.

Pope Benedict Easter candleSeems like a good day today to consider a couple paragraphs of that letter. We could apply the Pope’s words to ourselves here in the US, too.

In recent decades the Church in your country has had to confront new and serious challenges to the faith arising from the rapid transformation and secularization of Irish society. Fast-paced social change has occurred, often adversely affecting people’s traditional adherence to Catholic teaching and values. All too often, the sacramental and devotional practices that sustain faith and enable it to grow, such as frequent confession, daily prayer and annual retreats, were neglected. Significant too was the tendency during this period, also on the part of priests and religious, to adopt ways of thinking and assessing secular realities without sufficient reference to the Gospel. The program of renewal proposed by the Second Vatican Council was sometimes misinterpreted and indeed, in the light of the profound social changes that were taking place, it was far from easy to know how best to implement it.

Young people of Ireland, I wish to offer you a particular word of encouragement. Your experience of the Church is very different from that of your parents and grandparents. The world has changed greatly since they were your age. Yet all people, in every generation, are called to travel the same path through life, whatever their circumstances may be. We are all scandalized by the sins and failures of some of the Church’s members, particularly those who were chosen especially to guide and serve young people. But it is in the Church that you will find Jesus Christ, who is the same yesterday, today and for ever. He loves you and he has offered himself on the cross for you. Seek a personal relationship with him within the communion of his Church, for he will never betray your trust! He alone can satisfy your deepest longings and give your lives their fullest meaning by directing them to the service of others. Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus and his goodness, and shelter the flame of faith in your heart.

A young person’s experience of the Church should always bear fruit in a personal and life-giving encounter with Jesus Christ within a loving, nourishing community. In this environment, young people should be encouraged to grow to their full human and spiritual stature, to aspire to high ideals of holiness, charity and truth, and to draw inspiration from the riches of a great religious and cultural tradition. In our increasingly secularized society, where even we Christians often find it difficult to speak of the transcendent dimension of our existence, we need to find new ways to pass on to young people the beauty and richness of friendship with Jesus Christ in the communion of his Church… By treading the path marked out by the Gospel, by observing the commandments and by conforming your lives ever more closely to the figure of Jesus Christ, you will surely experience the profound renewal that is so urgently needed at this time. I invite you all to persevere along this path.

____

We are pro-woman and pro-life. The referendum in Ireland means a crushing short-term victory for unrealistic propaganda and the empty promises of sexual libertinism.

Pope St. John Paul II explained very thoroughly how a Christian must be pro-life. And he explained how a pro-lifer must be kind and sympathetic.

We separate the moral failings that can lead to an out-of-wedlock pregnancy from the simple good of a human life. We say Go to Confession, and start fresh; we stand beside you. The abortion movement offers no helping hand and piles shame on top of shame, saying: Go, Kill the fruit of your dishonest sex.

Love will win in the end. Dear brother and sister Catholics of Ireland, we American Catholics welcome you to the trenches. We will work to build the Culture of Life from the ground up, until the Lord calls us home.

Concession speech? No. We concede nothing.

Crying and Laughing: Dreamers

Just as you cannot understand Christ apart from the kingdom he came to bring, so too your personal mission is inseparable from the building of…that kingdom of love, justice and universal peace…A person who sees things as they truly are and sympathizes with pain and sorrow is capable of touching life’s depths…unafraid to share in the suffering of others; they do not flee from painful situations. They discover the meaning of life by coming to the aid of those who suffer, understanding their anguish and bringing relief. They sense that the other is flesh of our flesh, and are not afraid to draw near, even to touch their wounds. They feel compassion for others in such a way that all distance vanishes.  (Pope Francis, Gaudete et Exsultate 25, 76)

Christian joy is usually accompanied by a sense of humor…Ill humor is no sign of holiness. “Remove vexation from your mind” (Ecclesiastes 11:10). We receive so much from the Lord “for our enjoyment” (1 Tim 6:17), that sadness can be a sign of ingratitude. (Gaud et Exul., 126)

Mercy Toward the Enemy

Whoever lives the truth comes to the light. (John 3:21) The light of calm, sober truth—which we can only reach by a patient search. A calm, patient search for truth. For instance, when an accused criminal faces a trial in a court of law, governed by fair rules.

Our Holy Father Pope Francis wrote us a letter Monday, exhorting us to seek holiness by practicing mercy. Mercy not just towards the people we like, but towards everyone who needs help. After all, the Lord taught us to love our enemies.

osama-bin-ladenSo: Get ready for a doozy of a homiletic application. After all, this week marks the anniversary of two deaths.

The first one is the martyrdom of the Polish saint, Stanislaus. He died at the hands of a lawless monarch, who had kidnapped and plundered, and abused his power up and down the land. St. Stanislaus, as the bishop of Krakow, condemned King Boleslaw for this. So the king killed the bishop with his own hands, during Mass.

Now, St. Stanislaus recently had a very-famous successor as Bishop of Krakow. When Pope John Paul II visited his former cathedral to venerate the relics of St. Stanislaus, he referred to his holy predecessor as the “patron of moral order for the Polish people.”

Moral order. A sober society of law, justice, and peace, governed by the calm light of truth. That’s the ideal of Poland, and it’s our ideal, too. Truth, justice, the American Way. Terrorists have attacked that ideal by killing innocent people, especially on September 11, 2001. Decent people rightly condemn the terrorists for having done that.

But:

The other anniversary this week is what some people regarded as President Obama’s finest hour. Zero dark thirty happened seven years ago, during the second week of Easter. I remember reading John 3:16-21 at Holy Mass right after learning that we had killed Osama bin Laden.

VATICAN-US-OBAMA-POPEBut I cannot call that President Obama’s finest hour. Because he should have expressed one regret about what happened, and he never did.

Perhaps we never could have captured bin Laden alive and tried him for his crimes in a court of law. But it would have been better if we could have. If bin Laden had been tried, according to the rule of law, he might rightly have received the death penalty. But applying the death penalty without a trial—that is not what we stand for. That’s not the American Way. That’s not moral order.

I said this would be a doozy of an application of our Holy Father’s exhortation for us to practice mercy. But can we doubt that—even at the very moment when he breathed his last, after suffering a mortal blow—can we doubt that Saint Stanislaus prayed for king Boleslaw, the very man who had just killed him? Can we doubt it? After all, Jesus said: “Father, forgive them.” King Boleslaw and St. Stanislaus might be friends in heaven now.

Maybe, when Osama bin Laden died seven years ago, he went straight to hell. But we should not think that he did. We should assume that he is in purgatory, having been redeemed somehow by the omnipotent power of the blood of Christ. And we should pray and offer sacrifices for the repose of our enemy’s soul. It’s not easy to say, but we have to find a way to say: “May Osama bin Laden rest in peace.”

If we can’t bring ourselves to do that, then we’re not as holy as we should be.

Abraham and a March-on-Washington Partnership

us-capitolGod established His alliance with Abraham and promised a wonderful future. Abraham’s faith in that future makes him our father in faith. He willingly left behind everything that was familiar to him, in order to obey God.

Abraham rejoiced to see the day of Christ. The Messiah fulfilled the promises God had made so many centuries before.

So: On the one hand, Abraham’s all-consuming faith, which freed him to pursue the mysterious future God had prepared. On the other hand, the reward of that faith.

Now, what is it? The reward of faith? What can we call it, other than life? The day of Christ = the day of Life. Not toilsome life as we know it now—ephemeral, fleeting, dangerous, burdened by one anxious care after another. No. The life of Christ crucified and risen is life liberated from all these diminishments. Life primordial; life full of promise; endlessly youthful life.

Which brings us to: the youthful spokespeople for this Saturday’s “March for Our Lives.” They paint an evocative picture in their speeches. Where would the lost friends and classmates be now, had they lived?

The students killed in Florida last month would be preparing for mid-term exams. The little children killed in Connecticut in 2012 would be in middle-school. The high-schoolers killed in Colorado back in 1999 would be parents themselves, with their own children in elementary or middle school.

unbornLife. A future. Doesn’t it seem utterly obvious that this March-for-Our-Lives rhetoric could also take into account the other young victims of unjust violence—the little ones who never lived to see the light of day at all?

I myself am just old enough not to have to number the classmates and confreres that I might have had. I was already 1½ by the time Roe v. Wade came down.

But everyone younger than me has to live with the Roe-v.-Wade ghosts. The victims of violence who might have been childhood friends, or co-workers in the first job, or the Mr. or Mrs. Right that you could never find.

Christ came to reward faith with life. Our Gospel is the Gospel of Life. Can’t we imagine a better day, if all the true advocates of life could unite? If we could stand up together for all the innocent victims of violence that could have–and should have–lived to see the sun rise this morning?

To the Dreamers, from 1822 Charleston

This is the fasting that I wish: Setting free the oppressed. (Isaiah 58:6)

Almighty God liberated His chosen people from slavery in Egypt—the Passover. Our Christian religion rests squarely on that event. We can consider our religion from a million different angles. But from all of them, our Christian understanding of reality arises from God liberating slaves.

Denmark Vesey

Last week I spent a few days of precious vacation in beautiful Charleston, South Carolina. I wound up doing some extensive reading on the 1822 Denmark Vesey Rebellion, a secretly planned slave uprising, which got thwarted by the authorities at the last minute.

Historians do not agree on the potential extent, or likelihood of success, that the rebellion might have had, if it had proceeded as planned. But this much seems perfectly clear: In the spring of 1822, the city of Charleston and its surrounding environs had two completely unconnected universes of communication.

The white universe regarded the enslavement of Africans as a normal, unobjectionable part of everyday life. The black universe—at least that part of it involved in planning the rebellion—regarded the wholesale killing of whites in a sudden, decisive military enterprise as altogether justified, for the sake of taking political control of the city and establishing a legitimate social order, free of slavery.

What Charleston did not have was a bridge of communication between these two universes. No one cleared the air by declaring openly: “Slavery is wrong, and killing is wrong. Let’s peacefully re-organize everything on the basis of the dignity of the human individual.”

Maybe a common agreement on that principle could have provided a starting-point for ending the incredible, unendurable tension in the Charleston air that spring. It could have saved many lives and immeasurable misery. And no genuinely sane and reasonable person could disagree with such a principle.

But such was the fog of mind that clouded the town that no one enunciated the principle openly, and no one agreed with it, and no one co-operated with others based on it.

west-fraser-charleston-harbor
Charleston, SC

Now… Yes, this is Trump Country, southwest Virginia is. But, dear fellow Catholics of southwest Virginia, we have many, many Dreamers among us. Many DACA recipients, and many more DACA-eligible. Many Americans, who were born in Mexico, but who have lived here through all or most of their upbringing. They speak English better than they speak Spanish; they understand math and the internet better than you or me; this is their home, this land.

Does the government of the state of Virginia, or of the USA, have any right to treat these friends and neighbors of ours any differently than everyone else? To deprive these young people of the right to drive a car, to study, to work, to go to the doctor—to even live here?

We are talking about young people in our parishes, people whom we all know. Altar servers, religious-ed teachers, members of the choir, high-school classmates. The idea that any of these people have less of a right to live and thrive here; the idea that Providence or Fate wills for them to inhabit a lower tier of society, with fewer rights—that idea is patently and obviously not admissible to a Christian mind. It is a profoundly objectionable idea; we execrate it.

And yet it is the reality with which the Dreamers among us must live every day. Can’t plan for the future. Can’t join the army. Can’t safely take out student loans. Can’t obtain professional certifications to be a beautician or a nurse. Can’t know for sure if I’ll be able to live in the same country as my younger brother or sister, who was born here.

Ain’t right. We as a people will not get to a better future this way.

Dear Dreamers, We, the American electorate—We acknowledge that we bear ultimate responsibility for the fact that you find yourselves in this situation in mid-February, 2018. We are sorry. We want something better for you, and for us.

Cardinal Dolan on Why We Against Deporting Innocent People + Senate Judiciary Dems Against the Bedrock

…But let’s not imagine that one political party or another has the market cornered on nonsense.

Apparently the Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee consider fidelity to Catholic doctrine an obstacle to a judge’s impartiality.

Say what?

Just what body of doctrine should a judge base her opinions on? What body of doctrine holds together more solidly, reflects reality more profoundly, and guides us more humanely than the principles our Church teaches?

Seriously. That’s an honest question, Senators Durbin and Feinstein. Name it. Name the solid foundation for law other than the teaching of the Catholic Church.

We defy you to come up with anything better. We defy you to come up with anything even remotely as good. We defy you to produce anything anywhere near as coherent, rational, sensible, decent, and fair as the social doctrine of the Holy Catholic Church.

 

Explaining the Photo

Trump Little Sisters Cardinal Wuerl White House religious freedom

Donald Cardinal Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington, Mother Loraine Maguire and another Little Sister of the Poor, and President Trump. In the Rose Garden of the White House at a ceremony last week, for an executive order on “Religious Freedom.”

Someday we will have to explain this photograph to our grandchildren. That is: the Catholic Church shaking hands in this manner for this reason with this man.

I want to meditate with you on this. But first, some local color. Both my parochial vicars have enjoyed their post-Easter vacations. Now they’re back home, so I get to take a few days off. I got in the car and drove west.

Vanderburgh County, Indiana, has a splendidly stylish courthouse in Evansville:

evansville vanderburgh county indiana courthouse

I have driven through southwest Indiana and southeast Illinois before. But there weren’t so many inland seas then. Every creek and runoff has swelled and overflowed into acre after acre of cornfield. Indeed, half of the riverfront plaza in Evansville lies submerged beneath the Ohio. The Wabash lurches big and brown.

flooded field in southern Illinois

…Back to the matter at hand. I have examined our Catholic place in the “religious freedom” debate before. [Click HERE for a compendium.] I had decided to focus my mind on other things. But then the picture above–with the Cardinal, the nuns, and the president–got taken.

Who’s against religious freedom? In his speech at the ceremony last week, the president insisted that the free exercise of religion by the black church gave us the Civil Rights Movement. Amen. The president went on to conclude from this: Therefore, we had better not enforce the Johnson Amendment, the federal law which prohibits preachers from endorsing particular candidates for political office.

Dr. Martin Luther KingThis reasoning seems awful shaky to me, because: The Johnson Amendment prohibited all the black preachers who participated in the Civil Rights Movement from endorsing any candidates. The law held sway the whole time. But it didn’t seem to cramp Dr. King’s style at all.

Insofar as the Lord Jesus need not run for any office–reigning supreme, as He does, as King Eternal in heaven–I for one cannot imagine ever wanting to endorse a particular political candidate from the pulpit on Sunday morning. After all, politics involves many imperfect compromises, even on a good day.

Now, of course we cannot compromise on the dignity of human life. We cannot compromise on everyone’s right to life–not to mention liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

And who among us would want to compromise on this idea: Using artificial contraception makes no sense. Nothing good comes from mutual masturbation. Honest people find better pastimes.

But: Did we, the Church, really want to stand in the Rose Garden and shake President Donald Trump’s hand on the very day when he gloated in triumph over the passage of a law that would cost a lot of people their health insurance? Or do we want to shake his hand on any other day, for that matter? People shake hands because they trust each other. How could anyone trust Donald J. Trump? About anything?

In his statement about the executive order, another attendee of the ceremony, Daniel Cardinal DiNardo, noted that Americans with “deeply held religious beliefs” should never have to pay for anyone else’s birth-control pills. Therefore, we need some system by which to keep our money in clean, kosher bank accounts. Rather than in unclean bank accounts that pay for objectionable pills and procedures.

The Pill is a No NoMeanwhile, no Catholic leader simply stands up and says: Dear fellow Americans, it is much better to live without the pill! Whether you’re Catholic or not. Whether you have “deeply held religious beliefs” (whatever those are) or not.

No Catholic leader stands up and says: This is not about money. It’s about sexual honesty. And true happiness. And friendship with the Creator Who made us all and loves us all.

What is this precious “religious freedom?” In the person of our leaders, we stood in the Rose Garden and clapped about it last week. But what is it?

Did the Apostles have a harder time preaching the Gospel because no one had yet written the U.S. Constitution?

Speaking of the Gospel, seems to me like, in the Rose Garden last week, we boiled it down to: “As long as our bank accounts don’t disburse any money whatsoever to Anti-Life, Inc., then we’re good.”

Now, I beg you, dear reader, not to think that I am for giving money to Anti-Life, Inc. (by which I mean a corporation, wholly owned by Satan, that includes, but is not limited to, Planned Parenthood.)

But it seems to me that our greatest weapon against the destruction of life and the degradation of sex is not: begging for legal exemptions in a labyrinthine bureaucracy, in which our purity comes at the price of looking utterly self-interested.

Don’t we have a better hope of winning souls by simply preaching and living out what we believe? The Church of Christ is not an interest group. If we could convince people that artificial contraception does not really qualify as health care, then the USA would painlessly solve our entire healthcare financing problem. But even that doesn’t really touch the reason why we evangelize. We evangelize about chastity and true friendship and marriage and family because that’s how you get to heaven.

I think that the phrase “religious freedom” no longer amounts to anything. If bearing witness to the Gospel under the regime of the U.S. Constitution requires shaking hands in the Rose Garden with this notoriously dishonest man, then I for one would rather go back to risking the catacombs.