Father’s Day

Sunday is Father’s Day.  

For many families, it is a day for loving celebration. For too many others, it is “just another day”—or worse, a day of hurt and anguish.

For me, it is a day to reflect with profound gratitude on the loving, nurturing model of fatherhood that our dad provided, before he was taken from us much too soon more than 50 years ago; and to contrast that, sadly, with the devastation suffered today by so many young people who have been denied that loving, fatherly presence in their lives.  

A quarter-century ago, David Blankenhorn wrote in “Fatherless America” that “Tonight, about 40 percent of American children will go to sleep in homes in which their fathers do not live.”

While specific numbers are hard to come by, it is doubtful that the situation has improved since then. According to the National Responsible Fatherhood Clearinghouse, “more than one in four fathers live apart from their children.” Considering that many of these fathers have multiple children (we’re always reading about sports stars who have five or six kids by almost as many different women), the percentage of children without their father in the home is surely well above one in four. And while the Census Bureau in 2020 found that about 30 percent of children do not live in a two-parent home, they include many varied arrangements among the 70 percent who do: i.e., children living with relatives, with foster care families, with their mother and a stepfather or boyfriend.

To be sure, many such surrogate fathers are loving and caring—although research makes clear that children living with nonrelative men, especially mothers’ boyfriends, are at greatest risk of being abused.

Of course, some biological fathers (and mothers) also abuse their children. But overall, a loving home with two biological parents remains, by far, the safest environment for children.

And numerous studies affirm a demonstrable correlation between fatherlessness and a range of pathologies afflicting America’s youth: homelessness and runaway children, school dropouts, substance abusers, perpetrators and victims of sexual abuse, suicides, young people in juvenile detention facilities or prison.  

Of course, some fatherless homes result from illness or untimely death; others from unavoidable obligations, like military deployment.  But today, too many fathers are absent because they are incarcerated, and too many more choose not to be with their children. In other cases, the children’s mother does not want the father present. Often, this is justified: the father is abusive to her and/or the children; he is unfaithful; or he is irresponsible, or involved in criminal activity, and therefore a bad influence on, and possibly a danger to, his children.

Other times, however, the mother’s choice is less justifiable: as when she has been unfaithful and wants the children’s father out of the home so she can take in her new love interest; or when she is adhering to the secular feminist creed that “Women don’t need a man in their lives”—blithely ignoring the indisputable fact that children do.

This is not to disparage the many, many single mothers who devote themselves to the love and care of their children in the father’s absence. We honor these heroic moms; and on Father’s Day we also honor single fathers, fewer in number but just as heroic, who also devote their lives to loving and nurturing their children.

Indeed, on Father’s Day we honor all the men who accept their responsibilities as fathers—out of a sense of duty, perhaps, but more so because of their unconditional love for their children. These are the fathers who go to work every day to support, or help support, their families; who come home at night and focus on their children, helping them with schoolwork, attending their various activities, playing with them, talking with them, teaching and encouraging them, making them feel loved and protected. These are the men who sacrifice much of their own leisure time to do things with and for their children—or do so because it is not a sacrifice, but a joy to spend time with their children.

I remember once, after our annual two-week summer family vacation—always the highlight of the year for our dad—he told us that one of his colleagues at work had asked, “How can you have a vacation with the kids along?” My dad’s response: “To me, it wouldn’t be a vacation without the kids.” His life was centered on his family—as it should be for all fathers, but too often is not.  

In an old episode of M*A*S*H, Major Winchester contrasts his father’s distance from his children with Hawkeye Pierce’s close relationship with his father. “My father’s a good man,” Winchester tells Pierce; “but, where I have a father, you have a dad.”

That’s what we had: a dad, who with our mom provided a home filled with love and nurturing; and who gave us a model of what a dad should be.

I believe that model of fatherhood was his greatest gift to his children, especially his two sons. And, because he taught my brother and me, by example, how to be good dads, that model was also his greatest gift to our children, the grandchildren he never knew.   

Happy Father’s Day, to all the loving dads who make their children’s lives special, and the world a better place.   

Papal Silence on China

I like Pope Francis.

I like his pastoral approach—even when, like all of us, he sometimes falls short with an intemperate remark.  I love his vision of the Church as a field hospital, offering the healing love and mercy of Christ to all who open themselves to it. And, while I may at times differ with his prudential judgments about how best to get there, I am grateful for his emphases on uplifting the poor, promoting world peace, and providing stewardship for God’s earth.

And I revere him as the vicar of Christ on earth.

So this is painful for me to write.

But I am deeply troubled by the Holy Father’s continued silence on the brutal, systemic, and ever-widening human oppression that is the very essence of the Chinese Communist regime.

Add to that the regime’s menacing threats to Taiwan, its pursuit of world domination through military escalation, efforts to control technology, manipulation of the global economy, and its coverup and dishonesty after unleashing the devastating, worldwide COVID pandemic—and it becomes readily apparent that the greatest and most immediate existential threat to humanity is this brutal, aggressive, totalitarian gulag of a nation.  

Yet Rome is silent.

As 1.8 million Uyghur Muslims are imprisoned in camps, forced into slave labor, and subjected to beatings, starvation, gang rapes, torture, political indoctrination, and forced sterilizations, Vatican protest is barely audible.

This “genocidal” oppression, as the Washington Post put it, has been condemned as a “crime against humanity” by the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, and as “one of the most egregious human tragedies since the Holocaust” in a statement of protest signed by some 76 faith leaders from around the world.

But not by the leader of the world’s more than one billion Catholics.

For years, China has carried on a grisly practice of live, forced organ harvesting and organ trafficking, “parsing out heart, liver, lungs and kidneys for resale like so many used car parts,” according to China expert Steven Mosher, who also first exposed the regime’s forced abortion brutality. Despite Chinese government claims, in 2019 a yearlong investigation by an independent, London-based people’s tribunal found “no evidence” that the inhuman organ harvesting, which particularly targets political prisoners, Falun Gong practitioners, and now Uygur Muslims, has been stopped.

Yet, in 2018, Bishop Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo, head of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, asserted that the Chinese government had “accomplished the reform of the organ donation system.” Incredibly, given all of China’s barbaric human rights abuses, Bishop Sorondo proclaimed that “Right now, those who are best implementing the social doctrine of the Church are the Chinese.” (My emphasis)

As China has crushed Hong Kong pro-democracy protests and imposed a “national security law” designed to suppress dissent through draconian prison sentences, we have heard no strong condemnation from the Vatican—including, as the Wall Street Journal’s William McGurn reported, when Jimmy Lai, “not only Hong Kong’s most well-known champion of democracy,” but “also its most prominent Catholic layman,” was jailed last December.

Lai’s arrest “provoked condemnation” from journalists, political figures, and human rights activists worldwide. But not from Pope Francis.

“At a moment when he and his family most need their shepherd,” McGurn lamented, “Pope Francis is MIA.”

Why? Surely, despite the Vatican’s controversial and largely secret agreement with the Communist government, Church leaders would not remain silent while others are being persecuted, in order to protect Catholics and the Church from persecution.

And even if that were the case, it is not working. Human rights advocate Dr. Ewelina Ochab, writing in Forbes last month, cited this from the 2021 report of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom:

“Despite the Vatican-China agreement on Bishop appointments, Chinese authorities continued to harass, detain, and torture underground Catholic bishops—such as Cui Tai and Huang Jintong—who refuse to join the state-backed Catholic association.”

“The government also continued to demolish both Catholic and Protestant church buildings and crosses under its ‘sinicization of religion’ campaign.”

“Two years on,” then-U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo commented last September, “it’s clear that the Sino-Vatican agreement has not shielded Catholics from the party’s depredations.”

And it will only get worse, predicts Ochab, for all religious believers in China.

“Considering the current trends of persecution of religious groups in China,” she wrote, “it is expected that China will soon be…competing with North Korea as the worst place to live as a Christian. The same applies to other religious groups. Further restrictions of the right to freedom of religion or belief, in all shapes and forms, are expected.”

“The Chinese people,” Pompeo implored, “need the Vatican’s moral witness and authority in support of China’s religious believers.”  

As McGurn wrote, Francis’ silence would be more understandable if he were in the tradition of some past popes who were reluctant to involve themselves in worldly affairs, even those with compelling moral implications.

But this pope has rarely hesitated to speak out forcefully, on issues ranging from his negative view of capitalism, to the urgency of combating climate change, to welcoming immigrants, or opposing abortion and gender ideology. 

Now the world, and the people of China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan, need his moral voice crying out against the unspeakable evils of Chinese Communist oppression and aggression.

Instead, from the Vatican—to borrow from 1970s pop singer Don McLean—not a word is spoken; the church bells all are broken.

Or so it would seem.

The Life and Witness of Dan Berrigan

It will surprise some that I have a certain admiration for the late Father Daniel Berrigan, the controversial Catholic peace activist who was born 100 years ago this month, and died just five years ago.

Certainly, I differed with much of Father Berrigan’s world view. But I’ve long felt—a feeling further affirmed when I read Jim Forest’s 2017 Berrigan biography, “At Play in the Lion’s Den”—that our goals, from a Catholic perspective, were not so different.

Father Berrigan believed that living the Gospel of Christ required working for peace and justice, and consistently opposing war, violence, oppression, and injustice. So do I—although I could never lay claim to the courage and sacrifice he lived in service to those beliefs, and that made him an icon to some and a pariah to others, within and outside the Church.

We differed not on those worthy objectives, but on how to get there—how best to achieve peace with justice, how best to alleviate poverty and human suffering, and which systems—economic, social, political—best advance human flourishing amid the trials of our earthly journey.  

Dan Berrigan rejected Catholic just war teaching—which is not obligatory for Catholics—holding that no war could be just, given the wanton destruction and untold suffering war inevitably visits upon not only combatants, but whole populations. In living that belief, he demonstrated that true pacifism is not passivity. He acted to protest war and injustice, spending time in prison and in dangerous war zones to draw attention to what he saw as the immorality of weapons production, arms sales, and military conflict.

I too deplore arms profiteering, and the dangers of the military industrial complex that Dwight Eisenhower warned about. But I also recognize that in a dangerous world, military preparedness is necessary to maintain the peace. “Only when our arms are sufficient beyond doubt,” John F. Kennedy proclaimed, “can we be certain beyond doubt that they will never be employed.”

I accept just war teaching, properly understood. That teaching requires not simply an immediate “just cause,” as many Catholics mistakenly believe. It involves a wide range of requirements that must be met, both in the decision to go to war and in the subsequent conduct of the war, before it can be deemed “just” according to Catholic teaching.

Understanding that war, even for just cause, is fraught with untold suffering and unintended consequences—an “adventure with no return,” in St. John Paul II’s words—I appreciate that Catholic peace activists like Dan Berrigan ceaselessly call us—even when we feel forced to fight for a just cause—to the urgency of seeking peaceful solutions to human conflicts.

I found problematic the contrast between Father Berrigan’s characterization of America as aggressively imperialistic, and his embrace of “people’s movements” in Vietnam, Central America and elsewhere that were in fact violent revolutions sponsored by the imperialist Communist regimes of China and the Soviet Union.

And, while he courageously condemned subsequent repression by the Marxist governments those revolutions produced—drawing the wrath of some of his fellow peace activists—he seemed unable to grasp that such oppression is inherent in Marxism, whose core principles include violent repression of all dissent.

But I admired Berrigan’s consistency—a consistency the Catholic left often demands of the pro-life movement, but seldom demonstrates itself. Dan Berrigan was different. He did not just oppose abortion with lip service, he opposed it as he opposed war—with direct action. Indeed, when the Vietnam war ended, Forest writes, Berrigan appealed to peace activists “to focus their energies on saving unborn lives from abortion.”

That did not happen, of course. Too many in the peace movement were pro-abortion— “Abortion,” Berrigan told Forest, “is the one form of killing humans that most pacifists now support”—and even among those who were pro-life, there was a reluctance to alienate those who were not. Berrigan himself did not ultimately make it his priority issue. But he did speak out, forcefully and repeatedly, against the injustice of abortion; and, as with his anti-war activism, he backed up his words with action, getting arrested for trying to protect the unborn by blocking access to abortion clinics.

Among his arguments against abortion were that it would lead to euthanasia. And he backed up that conviction, too, with action, volunteering in hospice care to provide love and comfort—and the peace of Christ—to destitute patients dying of cancer, helping them experience true death with dignity.

I also admired his courage in the face of those—including among his fellow Jesuits—who, while claiming to share his anti-war views, were embarrassed or made uncomfortable by his activism, and rebuked him for it.   

Pro-life activists have experienced similar rebuke, from within and outside the Church, by those who are happy to identify as pro-life as long as it doesn’t require any personal risk or sacrifice. Not everyone is called to direct action, to civil disobedience and arrest, to jeopardizing their livelihoods or social standing. But we should honor those who have the courage to take such risks and make such sacrifices; not vilify them because they disturb our comfort level.  

Finally, I admired Father Berrigan for his fidelity to his priestly vows, through a turbulent time when so many forsook those vows.

So I am grateful for Dan Berrigan’s lifelong witness: to his priesthood; to the sanctity of every human life; to nonviolent resistance to, not just lip service against, injustice.

I am grateful because his witness challenges me—even when I reach different conclusions than he did—to never stop discerning how best to apply the teachings of Jesus in service to life and justice.

The Chauvin Verdict

I wasn’t there when George Floyd died under the knee of Officer Derek Chauvin, nor was I in the courtroom seeing and hearing all the evidence. So I cannot pronounce with full certitude on the verdict.

But, like everyone else, I could view video, read testimony, and at least reach an informed opinion. From that perspective, I feel justice was served with Chauvin’s conviction for murder.

As always in cases like this, portrayals of the victim’s character come into play. Family and friends tend to lionize their deceased loved one, completely understandable but often less than fully accurate. George Floyd had numerous run-ins with the law, and apparently had issues that, while perhaps meriting compassion, potentially victimized others.

Focusing extensively on his past record, however, cannot justify what Chauvin did to him. His alleged offense in this instance—passing a bad check—was not a violent crime. Yes, he apparently violently resisted being put in a squad car, claiming claustrophobic trauma. But Chauvin had him subdued and cuffed; he was not at that point a threat to anyone.

We learned, from video and testimony, how Chauvin dismissed the pleas of bystanders—and an off-duty city firefighter/EMT—who warned him that Floyd was in trouble. Apparently, those bystanders had a better handle on the situation than the professional police officer, who somehow couldn’t tell—or just didn’t care—that he was crushing the life out of a helpless human being. And if Floyd’s past background was relevant, what about Chauvin’s long trail of previous misconduct complaints?

A “use of force expert,” a former police officer testifying for the defense, compared Chauvin’s action to a cop tasering someone, who then falls, hits his head, and dies. Well, I’m no “expert,” but there seems to me a major difference between a split-second action that accidently results in a tragedy, and kneeling on a man’s neck for over nine minutes, slowly squeezing the life out of him.

So the verdict seems just to me. But the behavior in the streets, complete with threatened riots if Chauvin was not convicted, was deplorable. Not to be uncharitable, but I’ve always found California Rep. Maxine Waters a source of unintended comic relief, with her constant over-the-top hysterics whenever somebody dares to disagree with her. But the spectacle of a member of Congress in the streets, deliberately undermining our system of due process by demanding a certain verdict while the jury is deliberating, was scandalous.

Several more police killings of African Americans during and after the Chauvin trial were, to some, further proof of “systemic racism” within law enforcement. To others, myself included, they confirmed what even CNN’s Don Lemon observed: that every police shooting is different, and must be judged on its own specific facts.

As African American Congresswoman (and former police chief) Val Demings of Florida affirmed, that was surely the case in Columbus, Ohio, where a police officer shot and killed a 16-year-old girl as she attacked another young African American girl with a knife.

The shooting was, as the Biden White House said, “a tragedy.” Our hearts break for the slain girl, a foster child who doubtless had a troubled life.

But the police officer’s “main thought” was “preventing a tragedy and a loss of life of the person who was about to be assaulted,” Demings told CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “Now everybody has the benefit of slowing the video down and freezing the perfect moment. The officer on the street does not have that ability.”

In Minnesota, not far from where the Chauvin trial was in progress, a black man—allegedly resisting arrest after a traffic stop revealed an open warrant related to an attempted armed robbery charge —was shot to death by a police officer who somehow mistook her gun for a taser. A tragic and fatal mistake no police officer should make.

This was different from the Columbus case; there was no imminent threat to life that prompted this shooting. But it was also different from the killing of George Floyd: it was a momentary, unintentional lapse by the officer, not a sustained brutalizing of a helpless man.

Again, as Don Lemon said, every case is different.    

And let’s not lose sight of the violence being directed against cops, and whether the current anti-cop zealotry—itself a form of bigotry—is contributing to that violence.

We’ve had two such incidents on Long Island recently: one cop nearly died from a brutal stabbing, another was killed, by a hit-and-run driver—an African American woman who, it transpired, had earlier that same day posted a vicious anti-cop rant on social media.

While I fully support and deeply appreciate the work of our police officers, I recognize that there are bad cops, and I favor reasonable reforms in law enforcement.

But consideration of such reforms is virtually impossible in the current climate of anti-police demonization, de-policing policies demanded by radicals and enacted by progressive mayors and governors, and the terrifying nationwide spike in violent crime that has resulted.

Until order is restored, the first priority must be empowering police to better protect public safety—especially in poor and minority communities hardest hit by that crime wave. Thus have anti-cop extremists and progressive politicians undermined the momentum for responsible police reforms that emerged following the murder of George Floyd.  

Lethal Threat to Pro-Life Pregnancy Services

Pro-life pregnancy resources are being targeted for destruction by the New York State legislature.

Bill A05499 would authorize the New York State Health Commissioner to conduct a study of pro-life pregnancy centers in the state, potentially overwhelming their limited resources and largely volunteer staffs with requirements to compile and turn over to the state voluminous amounts of data and information.

That, along with the study’s “pre-determined outcome”—finding the services of these centers too “limited” because they do not include abortion—are clearly designed to “intimidate, silence and shut down pro-life centers,” in the words of the N.Y. State Catholic Conference.

This is confirmed by the fact that the bill authorizes no similar state investigation of abortion clinics; no collection of voluminous data from them; no questioning whether they apprise pregnant women of their full range of choices, including pro-life alternatives to abortion. Only pro-life centers are to be investigated, their survival threatened if they do not refer for abortions.

This bill is now on a fast track to passage after New York’s radically pro-abortion Democrats tightened their stranglehold on the legislature in last fall’s elections.

Consider what would be lost to women and children if these pro-life centers are legislated out of existence:

They provide referrals, for everything from medical support, financial resources and housing, to legal and social assistance and professional counseling; information, about pregnancy, prenatal care and childbirth—including, and this is what really drives the abortion industry’s opposition, information about the baby’s development and sometimes ultrasound imaging of the child in utero; information about adoption, community programs, training in parenting skills and child care; and free resources including pregnancy tests, maternity clothes, baby items, and 24/7 telephone helplines.

Pro-life maternity residences typically offer young single mothers housing and assistance through pregnancy, childbirth, and into motherhood, providing childcare and opportunities to develop parenting skills, complete their education and receive job training.

Most importantly, pro-life centers offer friendship, love, and hope to women in crisis and their children.

Why would government officials who claim to be “pro-choice” want to destroy centers that simply offer another choice to women contemplating abortion?

Because many such politicians are in thrall to the abortion lobby and lucrative abortion industry. That industry, besides being flush with government money, turns a profit by selling abortions. It doesn’t make any money when women choose not to abort, and so it doesn’t expend any effort or resources informing them of alternatives to abortion or assisting them when they choose life.

Nor can it tolerate those who do. So it seeks to destroy these loving ministries to women and children—ministries staffed largely by volunteers, that offer their services free of charge, without profit or government funding.

There needs now to be a powerful public outcry—of protest and opposition to this bill, and of support for these pro-life centers. This should come not only from pro-lifers, but from all caring people, including those who are truly “pro-choice” and want to assure that abortion is not the only choice accessible to women in crisis.

There should be a particular outcry from those Catholics who, while opposing abortion, are ambivalent about enacting laws to protect the unborn, preferring to focus precisely on what these centers do: help women access the resources they need to choose life for their child.

The public needs to understand the extremism of the abortion lobby, and this legislation is Exhibit A. They have never been about promoting choice. They are about promoting abortion; suppressing all opposition; and—most especially—destroying pregnancy resource centers that prevent abortions by assisting mothers who want to choose life for their child.   

So please, if you live in New York:

  • Contact your state senator and assembly member, respectfully but firmly urging them to oppose this attack on pro-life pregnancy support services;
  • Spread the word, in your families, churches, communities, among friends, urging them to make their voices heard as well;
  • If you are a member or leader of any groups or organizations, particularly religious ones, please work to involve them not only as individuals, but as a unified organization speaking with one voice to save these vital, life-affirming resources;
  • Pastors, and other church leaders, please share this information with your congregations, and urge them to help defend these pro-life ministries of love;
  • Volunteer, if you can, at one of these pro-life centers, or donate to them, so that should this insidious legislation pass, its intent of overwhelming their limited staffs and resources might at least be mitigated by an influx of new volunteers and funds.

If you live outside New York, but have family, friends, or other contacts here, please share this information with them, ask them to share it with others, and to make their voices heard as well. 

And understand that if this odious effort succeeds in New York, it will doubtless spur similar legislation in other states, and quite possibly in our national government as well.

And everyone, please pray.

Pray for all mothers and children who need these pro-life centers. Pray that God may change the hearts of legislators intent on destroying them.

And pray for our state and nation, as we plunge headlong, and ever more deeply, into the culture of death.       

New York’s Cash Pot

New York State just legalized recreational marijuana, to the cheers of some and the consternation of others.

This is an issue on which I’ve long sympathized with concerns on both sides. I do accept the judgement of health care professionals who attest to the medicinal attributes of cannabis, so I fully embrace its legalization for legitimate medical treatments.

But I have no professional expertise about the effects of marijuana. Nor, although I came of age during the counterculture, can I speak from personal experience, having never even felt tempted to smoke a joint—probably because, like many of my fellow boomers, I rejected that counterculture that is supposed to have defined our entire generation.   

Nevertheless, I share the concerns of legalization supporters about the costs of enforcing marijuana prohibitions, from policing, to prosecutions, to incarceration; and the harm done to those who end up in prison and are then dogged with a criminal record for what they feel was a “victimless crime.” And I am troubled by the wide racial disparities in marijuana arrest rates highlighted in a 2020 report by the American Civil Liberties Union.  

On the other hand, I note past Bureau of Justice statistics indicating that incarceration rates for marijuana possession alone (absent other crimes) have been miniscule—less than one percent of all state inmates nationwide—with many of those having used marijuana possession to plead down from more serious crimes.

And I share the concerns articulated by, among others, the New York State Catholic Conference about:

  • “Today’s ultra-potent marijuana” and it’s unclear impact “on developing brains.”
  • Marijuana as “a gateway drug” that can lead some into devastating addictions and criminal activity to support their habits.
  • Its potential to “result in higher incidence of impaired driving and operation of machinery by adults.”
  • The “irresponsibility” of legalizing “recreational use of a substance designed to be inhaled deeply and held in the lungs,” especially “at this particular moment in history when we are suffering from a horrific pandemic involving a novel virus that attacks the lungs.”
  • Legalization sending “a message to children that marijuana is harmless fun endorsed by the state.”

And not just children. It is one thing to expunge criminal records, ease burdens on the criminal justice systems, and end draconian sentencing—to the extent it actually exists. It is another thing to give the law’s imprimatur to recreational marijuana by fully legalizing it, effectively encouraging its use.  

And that brings me to another concern: the New York State government’s vision of marijuana sales as a cash cow to replenish their perpetually overdrawn state financial coffers.

“Tax Collection Projected to Reach $350 Million Annually” blared Gov. Cuomo’s news release—well before it got around to citing the alleged injustices corrected by legalization, or the safeguards that purportedly protect against its dangers. 

It is one thing for governments to end prohibitions against potentially self-endangering behaviors, substituting public safeguards for criminal sanctions.  

But when government comes to depend on self-destructive behaviors as sources of revenue, it is but a short—and inevitable—step toward the state encouraging, rather than just allowing, such behaviors.

We have already seen this with gambling, where New York—and numerous other jurisdictions—did not just legalize previously prohibited forms of gambling; it took them over, making lotteries and off-track betting state-run operations.

The rationale was that people were going to play the numbers and bet the ponies anyway, so better for the state to get the revenue, and put it toward public services, than for it to go into the pockets of organized crime.  

But in short order, New York began advertising its lotteries and OTB, in order to increase its take. No longer was the state simply trying to redirect existing gambling monies into government coffers. It was now using advertising to try to attract new bettors, those who weren’t gambling previously, and to get those who were to bet even more; disregarding the dangers to those afflicted with gambling addictions—and their families—and to economically vulnerable populations particularly susceptible to the lures, and the personal devastation, of excessive gambling.

How long before something similar happens with marijuana revenues? Before there is a shortfall in that projected $350 million annually, or the state decides that $350 million a year is not nearly enough? How long before more people need to be encouraged to use marijuana, and to use more of it? Before the state is advertising the pleasures of “getting high,” drawing in those most vulnerable to its “gateway” to addiction and crime, its potential damage to health, its impact on one’s employment and family? How long before the government is tempted to lessen safeguards, or to lower the legal age in order to tap into the teen market?

Governments need to raise revenues. They also need to exercise fiscal restraint. In too many jurisdictions—certainly in New York—the emphasis is almost exclusively on the former. How much they raise, however—and how they raise it—become moral issues when governments, refusing to exercise fiscal restraint, become so desperate for ever more revenue that they resort to schemes that encourage self-endangering behavior—in the process exploiting those populations most vulnerable to the destructive effects of such behavior.  

Catholic Communal Life vs. Communism

“Those who believed shared all things in common; they would sell their property and goods, dividing everything on the basis of each one’s needs.”

Thus does the Acts of the Apostles describe the “communal life” of the early Christians. “None of them ever claimed anything as his own; rather, everything was held in common.”

This, I think, is the root of the attraction some Catholics feel toward the communist ideal: what we might call the “commune-ism” of the early Church, as distinct from modern day communist systems. Indeed, Catholics drawn to the communist ideal will point out that “true communism” has never actually existed on a large scale, national level. I would submit that it never will, because it never can.    

The communal approach of the early Church is easily seen as the Christian ideal. It has flourished, in various forms, throughout the history of Catholicism, in monastic life, among certain religious orders, in some lay movements and communities.  

It works for several reasons: it is voluntary, the communities are small, and all who participate believe in and are committed to its ideals.

And these are precisely the reasons that large scale, government-imposed communist systems do not work—and are morally unacceptable.

They deny human freedom. One does not have to be a “greedy capitalist” to want one’s own property—to be in business for oneself, to work one’s own land, or just to have a home for one’s family.

As Pope Leo XIII made clear in Rerum Novarum, his seminal encyclical on Catholic social teaching, the Church upholds the right of the individual to own property as the just fruits of one’s labor. We are all free to voluntarily give away what we have, or decline to possess anything of our own. And yes, our Church teaches that we ought not hoard more than we need, while others suffer from want. But it is morally wrong for a coercive government to dispossess us of what is rightfully ours, to force us into a communal way of living that we do not choose for ourselves.

The vastness and diversity of large-scale communist societies also make them unworkable and morally problematic. It is one thing for a small group of like-minded people to come together voluntarily in a commune, all holding the same beliefs and values and agreeing to the same rules and practices, the appropriate use of their shared resources, and the relinquishing of personal freedom and individual possessions. It is quite another thing to force together an entire nation of diverse people, with different values, different religious beliefs, different priorities in their lives, require them to surrender any freedom to act according to their beliefs, values, and priorities, and deny them the discretion to use the resources they have earned in furtherance of those beliefs, values, and priorities. This disincentivizes productivity, making large-scale communist systems economically deficient as well.

Finally, the accumulation of power necessary to impose a communist system on an entire national population virtually guarantees that those holding such power will not relinquish it in order to live as “equals” among those over whom they have imposed their will.

This is especially true when they have followed the Marxist formula for establishing a communist system: violent revolution, followed by brutal, merciless suppression of all dissent. This, Marx wrote, is absolutely essential to reaching the ultimate goal: a classless society in which all are equal.

Yet, across more than a century of communist revolutions in virtually every corner of the globe, not one has ever attained that goal of classless equality.

“Power tends to corrupt,” Lord Acton said, and “absolute power corrupts absolutely.” We see even in a democracy, where there are constitutional limits to power, how difficult it is for the political class to limit or relinquish its powers, or to resist temptations to abuse those powers for personal gain.

How much more so when power has been obtained, secured, and made absolute through violent revolution and ruthless suppression of dissent. What moral compunction is left, for those who have already slaughtered millions of their own people and banished millions more into their gulags, to suddenly relinquish power, eschew the accumulation of material wealth, and reduce themselves to equality with the masses?

Communal living, among small groups of people with shared beliefs and values who come together freely and voluntarily, remains a Christian ideal. (Though not an obligation. Catholic social teaching allows for varying prudential judgements as to how best to organize one’s life and economic activity in service to our own needs and the common good.)

Large scale communist societies pervert the communal ideal, through brutal suppression of freedom, imposition of beliefs not shared by the entire population, and resulting economic deficiencies that only increase, rather than alleviate, human suffering.

As such, they are incompatible with Catholic moral and social teaching.    

Peter’s Denial

There is always so much to contemplate in the Scriptural readings for Holy Week.

This year, I found myself focusing on Peter’s denial of Jesus—and its lesson for us. It is really, when you think about it, another passion story, another story of suffering, death, and resurrection—one that all of us can probably relate to situations in our own lives. 

Think of what Peter went through—beginning with Jesus telling him, in front of all the other apostles, that “this very night before the cock crows twice you will deny me three times.”

How must that have felt! Jesus, to whom he had devoted his life, his entire being; in whom he had absolute faith and trust; Jesus, whom he loved with all his heart and soul, now believes—and tells the others—that Peter will deny Him in His terrible hour of trial.

How deep, how searing, the pain and hurt Peter must have felt, as he stammered in reply, “Even though I should have to die with you, I will not deny you.”

Who can doubt that in that moment Peter meant what he had said, and believed with all his heart that he would never deny the one he had proclaimed “the Christ, the son of the living God.” 

 And then, only hours later, he did just that—denying Jesus in order to save himself. And not once, but three separate times! Given two subsequent chances to overcome his fear, and stand up for Jesus, he instead doubled and tripled down, as we say today, repeating his denials ever more vehemently.

Then the cock crowed—and Peter “went out and began to weep bitterly,” as Matthew’s Gospel tells it.   

He must have felt as though he were suffering death; not physical death, but something far worse: death of the spirit. For in denying Jesus, he had denied everything he had come to believe, that which gave his life, indeed life itself, its only true meaning. He had denied the Way, the Truth, and the Life; he had denied the Son of the living God; and he had thereby denied the transcendent meaning of his own existence.  

Yet, though he had succumbed to weakness, Peter had in fact never stopped believing. As he had done at other times after Jesus had rebuked him, he remained faithful. He stayed with the apostles, saw the empty tomb, and encountered the risen Christ. And then came the resurrection: Pentecost, when Peter, along with the other apostles, received the gifts of the Holy Spirit, including the courage they would need to proclaim the Gospel in the face of unrelenting persecution. And ultimately, Peter would fulfill his promise to Jesus, that he would remain faithful “though I should have to die” for Christ.   

Surely, all of us can relate to Peter’s succumbing to weakness, because we all have our own human weaknesses. Some manifest themselves in our personal lives: treating others badly, acting selfishly or pridefully, indulging various sinful desires, or just failing to maintain a healthy prayer life and keep our lives centered in God.

Or perhaps we fail in a way similar to Peter: allowing fear and weakness to prevent us from standing up for our beliefs, or against cruel persecution of another. Maybe we are silent—or even join in—when our Catholic faith is ridiculed, rather than risk being socially ostracized. Maybe back in our school years, we failed to speak up for the kid who was being bullied, afraid of being targeted ourselves; and now we repeat that behavior, refusing to confront cancel culture bullies and their media allies as they use vicious smears to destroy the reputations, livelihoods, and even lives of those who dare to differ with them.

In all of these areas, we may be aware of our shortcomings, and determined to change. But as we continue to repeat the same failings, it is easy to despair of our ability to overcome our weaknesses and improve ourselves. That is where the example of St. Peter can serve us.    

Christ did not choose Peter because he was perfect. Far from it. Peter repeatedly fell short and was rebuked by Jesus. But he persevered, allowing Jesus to work through him, to strengthen him; until finally—after suffering the devastation of his greatest failing, his denial of Christ—he opened himself to the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and truly became the rock upon which Jesus would build His Church. 

And so we are called to persevere, in faith, through our repeated failings and shortcomings; allowing ourselves, like Peter, to be fortified by the Holy Spirit in overcoming our weaknesses, resisting temptation to sin, and finding the courage to stand up in defense of our faith, our Church, and all who are unjustly persecuted.

Rick Hinshaw to Write for Newsmax Insiders

Hi, Friends.

Just wanted to share some exciting news, that I am now a regular contributor to Newsmax Insiders on the Newsmax website. I’ll be publishing at least two columns a month on Newsmax. This will give much greater exposure to my Reading the Signs blog posts, affording me the opportunity to share with a wider audience my perspective on the contributions that Catholic moral and social teaching can and should make to cultural and public policy deliberations. It will also allow me to occasionally expand my writing into areas beyond what I focus on in my blog posts. 

To see my first post on Newsmax, a shorter version of my blog post on the Equality Act, click here.