Thankful for God’s Gifts in My Time of Crisis

Over Thanksgiving weekend, my wife Eileen brought family and friends together to celebrate my 70th birthday.

It was especially meaningful, coming exactly ten years after I was diagnosed–on Thanksgiving eve 2011–with colon cancer.

The ensuing ordeal–surgery, then six months of chemotherapy–was made worse by a simultaneous career crisis. Two weeks earlier, the Diocese of Rockville Centre had laid off half our staff at The Long Island Catholic (TLIC)–the first step toward killing the diocesan newspaper which I edited.

When a friend, months later, asked about both situations, I told him the prognosis for my health was good; that of The Long Island Catholic, decidedly less so.

While that proved accurate, neither situation would improve in the short term. In September 2012, just after my chemo treatments ended, the diocese informed me that our weekly newspaper was being terminated, replaced by a new monthly magazine–part of a national Michigan-based conglomerate–and virtually all my remaining staff let go.

Weeks later, experiencing severe chest pain, I was diagnosed with major artery blockages. Bypass surgery was not an option; it would likely worsen my condition, a surgeon explained. Relying on medication that seemed largely ineffective, I struggled, without help, to provide all local content for the new magazine while working with the Michigan editors on layout and design. Then came Superstorm Sandy, which only added to my workload and stress. Things seemed to be spiraling downward.

But God was in control; and He would give me what I needed to overcome both my health and career crises.

First and foremost was His gift of so many loving family members and friends, whose prayers, support, and encouragement would see me through. Most vital were my children, whose love for me and mine for them filled me with determination to get healthy and to sustain my career, so I could continue to be there for them and provide for them; and my wife Eileen, whose love and courage during those frightening days sustained me, as she has throughout all the challenges we have faced together over the years. She was then, as she has always been for our family, a pillar of faith and strength, without whom I cannot imagine having gotten through those twin ordeals.

God placed me in the hands of outstanding doctors and medical staff who brought me through both the cancer and heart blockages, guided me back to good health, and continue to provide quality care today.

They gifted me with not only their medical skills, but with calming reassurances that helped me maintain the positive outlook so vital to recovery. I’ll always remember our first meeting with my oncologist, who, after explaining my chemo protocol, soothingly assured me, “You’ll be fine. You’re going to go through this and get on with your life.” Which, with his continued care, is exactly what has happened.

Ironically, even as circumstances at TLIC added to my stress, my role there proved critical, in a way only God could have planned, for my medical recovery.

A reader, Terence O’Flanagan, a retired doctor, became a regular correspondent during my time as editor. Aware of my cancer, he inquired about my health, and, learning of the artery blockages, put me in touch with a cardiologist he highly recommended, Dr. Gary Ross Friedman–who I say, without exaggeration, gave me my life back. He implemented a much more aggressive medication regimen, and sent me to Dr. Jeffrey Moses, a world-renowned cardiologist who, in three procedures over several months, implanted eleven stents.

“When this is all done,” Dr. Friedman assured me, “you’re going to be good as new.” And I was. Sadly, this marvelous man, who had given new hope and new life to me and so many others, was subsequently stricken with pancreatic cancer, and died just a couple of years later.

While his loss is incalculable, to his patients and surely to his family, I can only be thankful that Dr. Friedman was there when I needed him, thanks to God’s loving providence and the caring intervention of Dr. Terence O’Flanagan–who, with his wife Carolyn, would become our good friends before Terence also passed on early this year.

Professionally, God helped me work through my health issues to steward TLIC magazine through its first three years. Then, as I prayed for discernment, He guided me to accept Bill Donohue’s generous offer to return to the Catholic League in 2015, providing me with the job security I needed for my family–and did not have with the diocese, which has now discontinued The Long Island Catholic altogether. For the first time in 60 years, the Catholic Church on Long Island is without a print communications organ–a situation I will address further in a coming post.

But that is for another day. Today I want to reflect thankfully on how God’s love sustained me through two grave crises that occurred simultaneously in my life ten years ago.

I don’t know what the future holds. But whatever lies ahead, I know God will be with me. For I saw and felt His loving presence throughout that frightening time; and I see it every day, in the love and care of all the good people He has placed in my life, who have manifested for me what it means to be Christ to others.

Archbishop Gomez and Social Justice

The Catholic left’s outcry against Archbishop Jose Gomez’s recent address to the Congress of Catholics and Public Life in Spain, deploring anti-Christian secularization, was predictable.

They imply that in labeling certain “new social justice movements” “pseudo religions,” the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is rejecting the entire concept of “social justice.”

But Gomez has always been a strong advocate for social justice—properly understood. What he is opposing now are groups promoting a “Marxist social vision” and “broad patterns of aggressive secularization.”

“As our Popes have pointed out,” he notes, “secularization means ‘de-Christianization.’” And this aggressive secularization is being driven by “an elite leadership class” that “has little interest in religion and no real attachments to the nations they live in or to local traditions and cultures.”

Witness this elite’s trampling on traditions and cultures of developing nations, deriding their religious beliefs while imposing western practices they find morally abhorrent: population control and abortion, anti-family policies, gender ideologies that Pope Francis terms “demonic.”    

This elite class, Gomez says, “is in charge in corporations, governments, universities, the media, and in the cultural and professional establishments” —all power centers secular and religious progressives previously indicted as forces of oppression and exploitation.

Now that those elites have embraced the cultural left, however—and as “religion, especially Christianity,” is their primary target for repression—their power and wealth are welcomed, even as their exploitation of the world’s vulnerable continues apace. Think of western corporations relocating production facilities to poor nations, where they pay poverty-stricken workers a pittance; or to China, whose Communist government provides them with outright slave labor.

This elite, Gomez points out, envisions a “global civilization” built on “a consumer economy” —something else progressives previously found exploitive, of workers and the poor. But with “woke” corporations now pouring profits from that economy into numerous left-wing causes, why worry about exploited workers and slave laborers who make those profits possible?

Fordham theologian Father Bryan Blasingame claims Gomez “blanketly characterizes social justice movements such as Black Lives Matter as pseudo-religions based on profoundly atheistic ideologies that are hostile to Catholic belief.”

But Gomez does not “blanketly” characterize anything. He details precisely the kind of social justice movements he is criticizing. And as he never mentioned Black Lives Matter, it is Blasingame who, however unintentionally, suggests BLM fits that characterization.

“Most Black Catholics I know,” Blasingame says, “declare that Black Lives Matter precisely because of our allegiance to what the archbishop calls the Christian story.”

This conflates the slogan—with which no faithful Catholic can disagree—with the self-proclaimed Marxist, and therefore atheist, roots of the BLM Global Network. And it ignores BLM involvement in the violence that devastated cities last year—victimizing primarily communities of color—or the threats last week from BLM of Greater New York leader Hawk Newsome, who promised “riots,” “fire,” and “bloodshed” if incoming African American NYC Mayor Eric Adams does not do their bidding.

This is the “extremism,” the “harsh, uncompromising and unforgiving approach” Gomez deplores.

Citing the police killing of George Floyd as “a stark reminder that racial and economic inequality are still deeply embedded in our society,” Gomez recognizes that these movements are often a response “to real human needs and suffering.”

But this too—like atheism and violence—is an inherent characteristic of Marxism: exploiting real suffering and injustice to impose “cures” that are often worse than the disease.

“These strictly secular movements,” Gomez observes, “are causing new forms of social division, discrimination, intolerance, and injustice.”

“We all want to build a society that provides equality, freedom, and dignity for every person,” he says.

But the cultural left rejects that assertion, insisting that only those who are “woke,” steeped in identity politics, victimhood, and left-wing ideology—and appropriately contemptuous of the rights of those who are not—really care about promoting human dignity, equality, and freedom. The rest of us are to be canceled, defamed as racists and white supremacists, our freedom of belief and expression censored—violently, if necessary—from the public square.

These “profoundly atheistic” movements, the archbishop points out, promise a false, human-centered utopia while denigrating Christian beliefs “about human life and the human person, about marriage, the family and more.” Thus, he concludes, they must be engaged “not on social or political terms, but as dangerous substitutes for true religion.”

“That does not mean we remain passive in the face of social injustice,” he stressed. “Never! But we do need to insist that fraternity cannot be built through animosity or division. True religion does not seek to harm or humiliate, to ruin livelihoods or reputations.” 

“The world does not need a new secular religion to replace Christianity,” he says. “It needs you and me to be better witnesses.”

That is critical for American Catholics. While our brothers and sisters in different parts of the world—the Middle East, China, North Korea—endure persecution, imprisonment, even martyrdom for their Catholic faith, we are often unwilling to risk far less—being ridiculed, socially ostracized, shunned professionally—for defending our faith.

Archbishop Gomez is telling us that must change—now!

“We need to proclaim Jesus Christ. Boldly,” he urges. “We should not be intimidated by these new religions of social justice and political identity.”

For “The Gospel remains the most powerful force for social change that the world has ever seen.” 

A NY Threat to Voting Integrity

Besides electing candidates for local offices this year, we voters in New York State will also be deciding whether to add three new amendments to our state constitution. All of them deal with elections and voting—and all of them, in my view, will undermine voting integrity, with dire consequences for our efforts to protect the unborn.

You may not even be aware of these propositions. There has been very little publicity or discussion about them. And reading the wording on the ballot will not be very helpful. It is short and innocuous, with little explanation and no discussion of their pros and cons.

For this reason—and because of my concerns about their potential impact on our efforts to protect life, defend religious freedom, and uphold parental rights and family values—I have gotten involved in a grass roots effort to inform New Yorkers about these proposals before we vote (early voting begins this weekend, and Election Day is Tuesday, November 2).

Ballot Proposition 1: Redistricting. This state constitutional amendment would undermine the Independent Redistricting Commission adopted by voters just seven years ago to end partisan redrawing of state and Congressional legislative districts. This would empower the majority party to control redistricting to its partisan advantage.

But don’t take my word for it. Newsday editorialized last week that “Albany’s Democratic supermajority is trying here to tinker prematurely with New York’s new system for drawing state and federal district lines,” in order “to trash the commission’s work and draw its own maps.”

“Vote no” on Proposition 1, Newsday urges.

We have already seen what this one-party stranglehold on state government has meant for the unborn in New York: enactment of a radical pro-abortion law that goes even beyond the extremes of Roe v. Wade. And there remains the looming threat of legislation targeting pro-life pregnancy support services for extinction if they do not refer for abortions.

Ballot Proposition 3: Same Day Registration. This proposition would amend the state Constitution to allow Election Day registration, with no adequate time for verifying the eligibility of new registrants before they vote. And they will vote by machine, rather than paper ballot, so their votes cannot be disqualified if it is later determined that their registration is invalid. Moreover, such last-minute new voter registration will only encourage more of the kind of 11th hour negative smear campaigns, often based on half-truths or outright falsehoods, that so poison our political system.

Ballot Proposition 4: Absentee Ballots. This proposition would amend the state Constitution to allow “no-excuses” absentee voting. Currently, New Yorkers must have a reason—illness, disability, scheduled absence from home on Election Day—to vote by absentee ballot. Allowing universal absentee voting will—as we saw last year, when such voting was allowed due to the Covid pandemic—result in extraordinary delays in tallying election results. Worse, it is an open invitation to vote harvesting and outright fraud.

Again, don’t take my word for it. In 2005, a bipartisan commission chaired by former President Jimmy Carter and former Reagan and Bush White House Chief of Staff James Baker warned that “Absentee ballots remain the largest source for potential voter fraud” through such corruption as ballots being intercepted in the mail, pressure and intimidation of voters, and vote-buying schemes. They recommended extensive safeguards against such practices before absentee balloting is expanded. None of those safeguards are included in this proposed amendment.

Here in New York, amending the state Constitution is a two-step process. Proposed amendments are first passed by the legislature. Then they are placed on the ballot—and We the People have the final say on whether they are enacted. Please consider this information carefully before voting on these three proposed amendments. And please feel free to share it with others.

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For those who would like to alert others to the negative impact these proposals are likely to have on pro-life efforts, I offer the brief summary below. It takes no position on how to vote and references no political party. Please feel free to reproduce it for mailings, email distribution, hand-outs, publication on social media platforms, or in Church bulletins. (You may include my name and/or contact information for attribution, or not include it, as you see fit.)  

N.Y. State Constitutional Amendments Endanger the Unborn

Three proposed state constitutional amendments on the ballot in New York this November threaten the integrity of our elections and bi-partisanship in government—both of grave concern to us as pro-lifers.

Ballot Proposition 1 would undermine the Independent Redistricting Commission adopted by voters just seven years ago to end partisan redrawing of state and Congressional legislative districts. This would empower the majority party to control redistricting to its partisan advantage.

We have already seen what one-party government has meant for the unborn in New York: enactment of a radical pro-abortion law that goes even beyond the extremes of Roe v. Wade. And of course, there is the looming threat of legislation targeting pro-life pregnancy support services for extinction if they do not refer for abortions.

Ballot Proposition 3 would allow voter registration on Election Day. This allows no adequate time for verifying the eligibility of new registrants before they vote—an open invitation to fraud.

Ballot Proposition 4 would establish universal access to absentee ballots. In 2005, a bipartisan commission chaired by former President Jimmy Carter and former White House Chief of Staff James Baker warned that “Absentee ballots remain the largest source for potential voter fraud.” They recommended extensive safeguards—none of which are included in this proposed amendment.

This is what is at stake for the pro-life cause if Ballot Proposals One, Three, and Four are approved by New York voters on Election Day.

CONTACT: Rick Hinshaw, rick.hinshaw@aol.com

Fighting for Justice—But Without Anger

“It is my wish, then, that in every place men should pray, lifting up holy hands, without anger.” — 1 Timothy 2:8

When I started this blog a little over a year ago, my intention, amid the rancor and vitriol that seems to poison virtually all political, cultural, even spiritual discussion these days, was to offer what I hoped would be reasoned, civil discourse—and to invite reasoned, civil responses—in addressing many of the great issues that challenge us in today’s world.  

That is in fact what I have tried to do throughout the long course of my career in primarily Catholic communications. I don’t always succeed, even to my own satisfaction, let alone the judgments of others.

Some would note that I don’t always show the respect that I call for others to demonstrate—a failing that, on occasion, I readily concede. Particularly when I encounter a stridency and lack of respect from proponents of differing views, I don’t always successfully resist the urge to respond in kind. But I try.

Others want me to be more assertive, more confrontational, more angry, in challenging opposing viewpoints and those who express them—particularly on fundamental issues of justice, human rights, morality and the sanctity of life—and to call out, by name, those who—whether I agree or disagree with their views—resort to ad hominem attacks, hateful language, and mischaracterizations or outright distortions of opposing points of view.

So let me be clear. I do get angry, about many things that I see in this world: from the mass killing of innocent children in the womb, to the unnecessary scapegoating of immigrants; from insensitivity to all manner of human suffering, wrought by such maladies as poverty, illness and disease, mental or emotional disabilities, war and terrorism, crime and punishment, government oppression, and on and on; to attacks on the family, and on religious liberty.

And I get especially angry at efforts to shut down reasoned discourse and debate—either through, as mentioned above, distortions of other viewpoints and personal attacks on those who express them; or, in today’s cancel culture, outright prohibition of, or creation of “safe spaces” to avoid hearing, any views different from one’s own.

But I know I ought not indulge that anger, for several reasons.

First, because it is counterproductive. As I learned from my earliest days in the pro-life movement, the goal, in promoting any issue or cause, is not just to win arguments. It is to change minds and hearts. And that is seldom accomplished by responding with anger and intolerance toward those who disagree. I have always found it more effective to listen, patiently and respectfully, to the views of others. This helps me to respond more effectively; it has also prompted me, on occasion, to adjust my own views in light of a new insight I might gain from hearing a different perspective.

Certainly, with regard to abortion—while never lessening my conviction that innocent, pre-born human life must be protected—listening to others has helped me to be less judgmental of those who, genuinely moved by compassion for all manner of human suffering, erroneously see abortion as an acceptable and effective solution.

It is neither. But before I can try to make others see that, I must understand where they are coming from. Only then can I respond, persuasively, in a way that might open their minds and hearts to more life-affirming approaches.

The second, and more important, reason that I—that all of us—must strive to avoid indulging our anger is because of what it does to us. It hardens our hearts and poisons our souls. It makes us so much less than God wants us to be.

Yes, as Jesus showed with His haranguing of the money changers in the temple, there is such a thing as righteous anger. I remember thinking, again in my early days of pro-life activism, that anger was wholly justified—indeed, called for—by the massive, violent killing of God’s most precious beings: innocent, defenseless children in their mothers’ wombs. And we can all think of other injustices so cruel, so inhuman, as to justify our anger.

It is not wrong to feel anger in such situations. But it is self-destructive to indulge that anger.

Rather, when we encounter cruelty and injustice, we are called to act, in whatever ways we can, to protect those being victimized; to advocate for them; and to persuade their persecutors—forcefully, yes, but without anger and hatred, even if they exude such toward us—to begin acting with justice, with compassion, with respect for the humanity of others.

And we are called, above all—as Paul wrote to Timothy—to “pray, lifting up holy hands—without anger.”

Texas Law is Saving Lives

If you want a preview of what we are in for should the Supreme Court overturn Roe v. Wade, just observe the pro-abortion hysteria over the Texas “heartbeat” law protecting the lives of helpless infants in their mothers’ wombs.

“Extremist law” blares a headline in The Atlantic over an inflammatory charge that “conservative legislators in Texas” are “willing to let pregnant patients suffer and die.”

“Vigilantism,” shrieks NARAL Pro-Choice America about the law’s empowerment of private individuals to bring civil suit against purveyors and abettors of abortions. One would think abortion promoters, after years of falsely accusing pro-lifers of wanting to “put women in prison,” would be relieved that this law avoids criminalizing abortion. And, as vigilantism involves private action without regard to legal process, it hardly applies to bringing suit in a court of law.

Nor is the hysteria limited to words. The head of Georgia-based game development studio Tripwire Interactive was forced out after tweeting his support for the law. And Newsweek published a list of “Companies Who Donated to Co-Sponsors of Texas Abortion Bill,” clearly inviting blacklisting. Add to this the quiescent toleration, by progressive politicians and mainstream media, of last year’s left-wing rioting that destroyed lives and property and terrorized cities across America, and we have some idea of the hatred and violence that await if Roe is overturned.

To be sure, there is also negative reaction to the Texas law among Republicans and conservatives–including some who identify as pro-life, and whose sincere prudential differences with the law’s approach should be respected.

But there are also those establishment Republicans and economic and foreign policy conservatives who are ambivalent–and in some cases outright hostile–toward the pro-life cause. They want pro-life votes as part of their electoral coalitions; but they never really work to advance pro-life policies, either because they see them as politically detrimental, or because they don’t actually believe in the pro-life cause.

Look, these folk are telling pro-lifers now: pro-abortion President Joe Biden is in serious political trouble, with the Afghanistan catastrophe, the ongoing border crisis, and the COVID spike. But the Texas abortion law is allowing him to distract attention from those things, solidify his base, and jeopardize our chances to take back the White House and Congress–without which, we cannot advance pro-life legislation.   

But pro-life people have been hearing this for fifty years. Just elect us, they are told, then we can help your cause. Then once these politicians do get elected, there are always other issues that take precedence. Or, as in this case, they don’t like pro-life “tactics.” There is always some excuse for deferring action on pro-life initiatives. But come the next election, they are back seeking pro-life votes.

Should pro-lifers, to mollify such ambivalence, turn their backs on true pro-life public officials, like those in Texas, who act courageously to protect unborn lives? If they do, who can they expect will ever stand with them again?   

Some pro-life politicians and commentators echo the objections of ambivalent Republicans and conservatives: the Texas law is “too extreme,” it will be politically damaging. Others are discomfited by the strategy–using civil actions by private citizens to prevent abortions.   

David French, in a thoughtful and moving piece that deserves a thorough read and detailed discussion, nevertheless labels the Texas law “dangerous.”

That’s ironic. French, who is clearly pro-life, surely understands the mortal danger that innocent children–tens of millions of whom have already been killed–are in every day, as long as our culture of unrestricted abortion remains intact; the danger to women, too many of whom have already been killed, physically injured, or emotionally scarred by the brutality of abortion; the danger to other vulnerable populations, as long as the abortion culture’s “destroy the victim” mentality dictates our responses to human suffering; and the danger to our nation as now, almost 50 years on from Roe v. Wade, the breakdown in respect for human life is evident in the violence that permeates our city streets, college campuses, even political protests.   

These are the existential dangers that drive the pro-life movement; and any approach, however imperfect or temporary, that peacefully mitigates them while the work goes on to build a culture of life, is welcome.

As Nathanael Blake writes in The Federalist, “We should cheer Texas’s new law prohibiting abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected, and we should rejoice as it saves lives and changes the culture.”

“For the first time since Roe v. Wade,” observed the Catholic bishops of Texas, “the U.S. Supreme Court has allowed a prolife law to remain while litigation proceeds in lower courts. We celebrate every life saved by this legislation.”

That is the bottom line.

By crafting this law to involve civil rather than criminal liability, Texas enabled it to immediately take effect. Once it did, Blake quotes the New York Times, “Abortion clinics reported dramatic drops in patients on their schedules. And pregnancy crisis centers, where anti-abortion groups offer pregnancy services, reported surges in phone calls and walk-ins.”    

 While legal challenges are heard, right now, every day that this law is in effect, lives are being saved.

That is indeed cause for celebration–and for gratitude, to Gov. Greg Abbott and the pro-life legislators of Texas.                                     

What Next For Andrew Cuomo?

“The tumult and the shouting dies,

The Captains and the Kings depart.

Still stands Thine ancient sacrifice–

An humble and a contrite heart.”

I first used that verse from Rudyard Kipling–immortalized in the title of Taylor Caldwell’s novel, The Captains and the Kings–when I wrote about the last New York governor who resigned in disgrace amid sexual scandal.

That was Eliot Spitzer, who quit in 2008 after being caught regularly patronizing a prostitution ring–even as, while New York’s attorney general, he had prosecuted such criminal enterprises. 

Now it is Andrew Cuomo, resigning after an investigation commissioned by NY Attorney General Letitia James concluded that he had sexually harassed 11 women–and physically groped at least one–who were either subordinates or with whom he had dealings as governor.

As with Spitzer, sexual misbehavior was far from the only scandal engulfing Cuomo. Indeed, among those investigating other allegations against Spitzer was none other than then-NY Attorney General Andrew Cuomo.  

Since Cuomo took office in 2010, we have seen:  

  • the Moreland Commission, which he established ostensibly to root out corruption in Albany, then abruptly dissolved when it reportedly got too close to corruption in his own office;
  • his “Buffalo Billions” economic project, which ultimately saw two Cuomo operatives–including family political confidante Joseph Percoco, whom Andrew had dubbed his father Mario’s “third son” –sent to prison for bribe-taking;
  • most egregious of all, the nursing home scandal, in which Cuomo and his health commissioner ordered those facilities to accept COVID-positive patients into their vulnerable, elderly populations; then–as admitted by the governor’s own chief assistant–Cuomo manipulated figures to underreport, by thousands, the number of subsequent COVID-related deaths among nursing home residents;
  • a related investigation into whether he illegally utilized state workers to promote a book he authored touting his heroic leadership during the pandemic.

For faithful Catholics, other actions by the self-professed Catholic governor also constitute scandal: proudly enacting same-sex “marriage” in New York, and signing a radical pro-abortion law that goes even beyond the extremes of Roe v. Wade. It allows no limits regardless of fetal age or development; no parental rights regarding abortions for minors; no protection for pro-life taxpayers from forced complicity in abortions; no requirement that abortions be performed by licensed physicians; and no legal protection for babies born alive following a failed abortion.

So, is Andrew Cuomo’s political career finished? Not likely, if the past, and the specifics of his drawn-out resignation, are any indication.

When I quoted those lines from Kipling regarding Eliot Spitzer, I naively assumed he was through with politics. Alas, he “rose again” five years later, running for Comptroller of New York City (he lost the Democratic primary). Nor was he alone. Anthony Weiner, driven from Congress in a sexting scandal, re-emerged to run for mayor of NYC–and was polling well, until he again was caught sexting, this time with a minor, and had to withdraw.

Nor is it only Democrats, or only in New York. South Carolina Republican Gov. Mark Sanford, whose political career seemed over when he was caught in an extra-marital affair–in South America, while lying to constituents and media as to his whereabouts–later ran and got elected to Congress.

Cuomo, as pundits across ideological lines are observing, seems already to be laying the groundwork for a political comeback. In resigning, he gave himself a two-week grace period before leaving office, very publicly continuing to issue various government edicts. He used a farewell address not to apologize or accept responsibility, but almost as a victory lap–denying any wrongdoing, condemning the AG’s investigation as a “rush to judgement,” and touting his accomplishments, as though he were departing honorably after a successfully completed term.

He seems very much in the mold of his predecessors-in-scandal: driven by an insatiable lust for power; an obsession with being in the public eye, unable to distinguish between public fame and public shame; and possessed of an apparently messianic impulse that tells them their governance is absolutely indispensable to us.

I would commend to Andrew Cuomo a different–and decidedly more Catholic–path: that chosen by John Profumo, the married British secretary of war who in 1962, at the height of the Cold War, resigned after being caught in an affair with a woman who was at the same time cavorting with a Soviet spy.

As Peggy Noonan recounted in a beautiful 2013 column in the Wall Street Journal, Profumo never sought a return to political power. He spent the next 40 years working at “a rundown settlement house” for the poor in east London. He did “the scut work of social work,” Noonan wrote, “washing dishes and cleaning toilets. He visited prisons for the criminally insane, helped with housing for the poor and worker education.” And learned, as he attested 40 years later, “humility.” 

I would humbly urge Andrew Cuomo to do likewise. Let the tumult and the shouting of public adulation die; let the captains and the kings of political power depart. Find instead–in true service to others, not the contrived “public service” of political power and prestige–Kipling’s “humble and contrite heart.”

In short, be Christ to others–as we are all called to do.         


Populism

How should Catholics regard the phenomenon of populism, and its current manifestations in America and around the world?

Pope Francis warns against “the prejudice of populism, countries who close in on themselves and turn to ideologies,” including “the old ideologies that created the Second World War.”

Unquestionably, Hitler had a powerful populist appeal that helped give rise to his Nazi regime–which was certainly the immediate cause of World War II. But that German populism grew out of the terrible suffering inflicted on the German people as a result of the First World War–a war created not by populist “ideologies,” but by the ruling elites of the various European powers, backed by powerful American financiers and subsequently joined by an elitist American president. So the root causes of both world wars were entrenched governing elites–the very thing that populist movements oppose.

Pope Francis also criticizes the “political paternalism” of populism. But again, it is not populists, but ruling political elites–monarchies, authoritarian or totalitarian dictatorships, even democracies ostensibly governed by “the people” –that habitually assume a paternalistic posture over those they govern.

So let’s first understand what populism is–and is not.

While Webster’s calls populism “a political philosophy directed to the needs of the common people,” I prefer the definition found on Google: “a political approach that strives to appeal to ordinary people who feel that their concerns are disregarded by established elite groups.”

For while populism does strive to give voice to the concerns of the “common people,” it is not an actual philosophy or ideology. The populist approach has been used by individuals and movements espousing widely divergent philosophies and ideologies–or often no consistent philosophy at all, just short-term (some would say “reactive”) responses to immediate concerns.

Populism can degenerate into anger-driven actions, scapegoating of certain groups, mob rule and violence. It can be exploited by charismatic demagogues to advance their own agendas or ambitions. Hitler is the most extreme example, but far from the only one.

That is not always, or necessarily, the case, however. In America, the first populist movement was probably the election of Andrew Jackson–when the “common people” first asserted themselves in choosing a president. At the end of the 19th century, a Populist Party emerged, advocating for the interests of farmers and laborers. Its standard bearer, three-time Democratic Party presidential nominee William Jennings Bryan, while a passionate orator, was no demagogue.

Populist uprisings in the 1980s (with Catholics in the vanguard) peacefully overthrew the Marcos dictatorship in the Philippines and communist regimes across eastern Europe, while an Anglican bishop led the populist movement that ended apartheid in South Africa.

So populist movements are not, within the precepts of Catholic moral and social teaching, inherently good or bad. They must be judged according to their specific features. Are they driven by selfish desires, or concern for the common good? Led by principled altruists or ambitious power-seekers? Peaceful, or prone to violence? Most importantly, what has provoked a particular populist surge?

Consider our recent American experience.

Over the past decade or so, we have seen populist uprisings across the ideological spectrum: the Tea Party on the right, Occupy Wall Street on the left; self-proclaimed socialist Bernie Sanders’ surprisingly strong populist progressive challenge to Hillary Clinton for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination, and Donald Trump’s stunning populist conservative capture of the Republican nomination and then the White House; the subsequent populist conservative policies of the Trump administration, and the outsized influence of AOC and her “Squad” of left wing Congressional populists.

These populist movements of left and right have little in common philosophically. The Tea Party and Trump supporters want less government, protesting what they see as encroachment on their God-given freedoms and disruptive over-regulation of the economy. Occupy Wall Street, Sanders, and the Squad want more government, to rein in big business and redistribute wealth to poor and working people.

What these movements share is a pent-up anger at those in the political class who seem to regard government power as their perpetual entitlement; and the rest of us as unworthy to participate, beyond voting, paying taxes, and obeying their laws.

Conservative and progressive populists are tired of politicians who get elected promising to address their concerns, then abandon them to gain acceptance among that permanent political class. They were turned off in 2016 by what they saw, in both parties, as the attempted “restoration” of ruling family dynasties, the Bushes or the Clintons. And, while their solutions differ, both progressive and conservative populists rail against crony capitalism, whereby they see big business and big government colluding to enhance their wealth and power at the expense of ordinary Americans.

I am not a populist. I prefer deliberative formulation of policies based on a consistent set of moral values and governing principles. And I’m well aware of the excesses, and even acts of violence, indulged in and excused by some involved in these current populist movements.

But when an entrenched political class presumes to rule over and exploit, rather than serve, the people, peaceful grass roots populism can be a vital check on governmental arrogance and elitism. As such, it should be welcomed, not condemned; the dangers of its excesses guarded against, but not presumed intrinsic; and the governmental abuses that gave rise to it addressed, forthwith.

All that is consistent with Catholic moral and social teaching.

A True Friend

I’ve heard it said that if in life you have one or two “real” friends–people with whom you have a mutually loyal, lasting closeness, who will always be there for you and you for them–you are fortunate indeed.

That made perfect sense to me. Yet it strikes me now that I have been blessed with more than a few such true friends; certainly more than I deserve. And it leads me to reflect, with profound gratitude and humility, on how God, throughout my life, has guided me toward various callings–the pro-life movement; principled political campaigns; a career of service to the Church–that have brought me together with faithful, virtuous people who have gifted me with their friendship.

I’m thinking now of one such friend, Kevin Clancy, taken from us five years ago this month.

I had first met Kevin more than 40 years earlier when, as a teacher and moderator of a pro-life student group at a local Catholic high school, he connected with our group, Long Island Youth for Life and Justice. He quickly immersed himself in our work, becoming an effective educational speaker, advocate for pro-life legislation, and political organizer.

I admired Kevin’s independent spirit. A cum laude graduate of Notre Dame, his career prospects seemed limitless. But Kevin wanted no part of being controlled by monetary pursuits or societal expectations. He had such a broad range of knowledge, interests, and talents, and he wanted to be free to follow wherever he felt life was leading him at any given time.

He embarked on a life journey that took him from a gold coast estate on Long Island–where he rented a room while writing a novel–to years later living in a tiny cabin he built on mountainside property in upstate Deposit, New York, roughing it with no electricity and only a wood-burning stove for heat in the region’s frigid winters. 

In between, he stayed involved in pro-life and political activities–managing our friend Bruce Duncan’s state Assembly primary campaign that very nearly upset the then-mighty Nassau GOP machine–and enjoying the social revelry that was always part of who we were as pro-life young people.

Over the years our interactions waxed and waned depending on physical distance and various turns our lives took. But our friendship endured, and we were there for each other during important times in each other’s lives.

Kevin served as an usher in both my and my brother John’s weddings, and was a loving godfather to John and Brenda’s daughter Theresa. In turn, John, Brenda and Theresa were with Kevin through his final days, accompanying him on his journey home to Jesus.

He actively supported my political activities during the 1980s, and years later, when I became editor of The Long Island Catholic, he worked to promote the paper and its mission.  

My brother and I were privileged to assist him with editing as he continued his writing pursuits with a book on the Civil War. Because I had saved copies of many chapters, I was able to help rescue the book when Kevin’s cabin burned down one cold winter night (“my guardian angel woke me,” he told me about his escape), and he lost his computer and discs. While his earlier novel was never published, Kevin’s “Ten Intriguing Questions about the Civil War” is available on Amazon Kindle, as is his “Augustine’s Life in Psalms.”  

When he was diagnosed with cancer, Kevin underwent radiation treatments, followed by surgery. But it had spread too far. John and I were able to drive up and visit him several times, including a very special Palm Sunday when we took him to Mass in the village’s quaint little Catholic Church, then spent the entire afternoon at a little restaurant in town, talking, laughing, reminiscing–and meeting many of the locals whose affection for and friendship with Kevin was so gratifying, if unsurprising, to us.

Months later, when he was buried from that same church, the outpouring of love from the people of Deposit– and of deep sadness at his death but profound gratitude that he had been part of their lives–reflected our own feelings on what he had meant to us as well.

Kevin had immersed himself in the life of that community, contributing to it in various ways. He taught many classes in the local “Summer Fun” program, and for several years operated Seven Pines, a combination Civil War, chess, and education store.

The prevailing culture would view the life Kevin chose as a waste of his extraordinary gifts. But he was being faithful to himself, and to the God he knew was the source of those gifts. He loved the Book of Psalms, and his life conformed to the words of Psalm 62: “Though wealth abound, set not your heart upon it”; for he knew, as the same Psalm proclaims, that “Only in God is my soul at rest.” We’re filled with faith that his is now.

He was a deeply spiritual, prayerful Catholic, and everything he did–his teaching, social and political activism, his daily interactions with the people of his adopted community, and his enduring friendship with those of us from his youth–bore witness to his faith.

We had talked at times of organizing a reunion of the pro-life friends of our youth. It never happened during Kevin’s life; but, inspired by the gathering of some of those friends at a Mass for him back on Long Island, we made it happen–and, although interrupted by COVID, we plan to do so again.   

And so in death, Kevin Clancy left us one final legacy. He drew us together again, renewing and deepening those lifelong friendships built on our shared commitment to and love for God’s gift of life.   

Biden’s Assault on the Hyde Amendment

I wasn’t going to belabor the Joe Biden issue beyond my previous post—and guest essay in Newsday—regarding the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) commissioning a document on the Eucharist amid the pro-abortion President’s very public Catholicism and reception of the sacraments.

But now the Biden administration is acting on the President’s campaign promise to do away with the Hyde Amendment—which, since 1976, has prohibited (with some exceptions) federal funding for abortions.  

Our Catholic president intends to force American taxpayers to be involved in providing abortions by paying for them. 

So I have a question for my fellow Catholics who have been publicly—in some cases harshly—criticizing the bishops for even considering whether support for the grave moral evil of abortion renders a Catholic politician unworthy to receive the body and blood of Christ. (And let’s be clear: “worthy” does not mean “sinless,” which would preclude us all. It means repentant — as opposed to obstinately persisting in grave sin.)

Are you equally offended by President Biden’s determination to force all of us—you, me, all our fellow Catholics and millions of pro-life Americans—to actually participate in the killing of unborn children through our tax dollars?

If it is wrong, in your view, for bishops to deny Communion to Mr. Biden—and again, whatever recommendations might come from a USCCB document, such denial may only come from his diocesan bishop, or the bishop of a diocese where he presents himself for Communion—is it not an even greater wrong for this Catholic to use his presidential authority to force his fellow Catholics to take part in this grave moral evil?

I wrote last week that a bishop’s denial of the Eucharist to a public figure is done for the purpose of saving souls—not only the soul of that public figure, but also the souls of others whom he or she might lead into grave sin. So what about a Catholic figure who doesn’t just lead others into committing a grave moral evil, he forces us into it?   

This is even more scandalous given that Joe Biden, throughout his 36 years in the U.S. Senate and even as Vice President, always supported the Hyde Amendment. He even reiterated that support in the early stages of his 2019 presidential campaign—before immediately caving under an onslaught of pro-abortion criticism. He suddenly discovered that abortion is a “right” which cannot be “dependent on someone’s zip code” (by which he meant their income level).

There are two problems with this formulation: first, Biden’s presumption that just because there is a legal “right” to something, the government must fund it for those who cannot afford it.

While Joe Biden and many others may not like it, there is a right to gun ownership in America—a right that is actually in the Constitution, unlike the “right” to abortion. Does that mean the government should be buying a gun for every American who cannot afford one?

Second, Joe Biden’s current assertion of a “right” to abortion directly contradicts his having previously, and repeatedly, stated the exact opposite:

“I do not view abortion as a choice and a right,” he said in 2006, shortly before launching another of his presidential campaigns. But that long-held view changed in 2019, when he saw his last chance for the presidency being jeopardized by the pro-abortion extremists who have completely taken over the Democratic Party.

Critics of the bishops cite an individual’s right of conscience in making “moral decisions.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1782) Of course, the very next section of the Catechism requires a conscience to be informed by enlightened moral judgement. But let’s put aside for now whether Mr. Biden’s promotion of unrestricted abortion can possibly meet that requirement.  

Let’s also leave aside whether Joe Biden’s sudden discovery, in the heat of a presidential campaign, of a “right” to taxpayer funded abortions that he never recognized before, is a matter of conscience or political expedience.

What of his violation of our right of conscience? The Catechism emphasizes that a person “must not be forced to act contrary to his conscience.” Yet President Biden wants to use the coercive powers of government to force all of us who are pro-life to act contrary to our consciences by facilitating abortions.

As I wrote last week, I will not lobby the bishops to withhold the Eucharist from anyone. That judgement is entrusted by God to them, not to me; and frankly, I have all I can do to try to prepare myself to worthily receive the body and blood of Jesus, without presuming to judge the worthiness of others.

But I will prayerfully support any bishop who, acting in his role as a shepherd of souls, determines that he must withhold the Eucharist from public figures who persist in promoting a grave moral evil, and leading—or forcing—others into that same evil.

That is what is at issue with pro-abortion Catholic President Joe Biden.

The Bishops and the Eucharist

Amid the contrived hysteria over the U.S. Bishops’ commissioning a draft document on the Eucharist, some calm, rational clarification is in order.

To begin with, whatever document ultimately emerges from this process will NOT—because it CANNOT—bar President Biden, or any abortion-supporting Catholic politician, from reception of Communion. That authority is delegated to diocesan bishops, acting individually; not to national bishops’ conferences acting as a body.

Probably, the draft—which will be subject to discussion, debate, and proposed amendments before a final vote next fall—will reiterate long-standing Church teaching that anyone in a state of unrepentant grave sin may not worthily receive the body and blood of Jesus; and that publicly, obstinately promoting the legalized, deliberate mass destruction of innocent human lives constitutes such grave sin.

Nor, despite all the wailing and gnashing of teeth by pro-abortion politicians, activists, and media—not to mention ill-informed or disingenuous Catholics—is this an attempt by the bishops to politicize the Eucharist, using it to influence elections or legislation.

Theoretically, it could have that peripheral effect—although I doubt it, given that pro-abortion Catholic politicians tend to proudly wear rebukes from their bishops as political badges of courage.

In any event, that is not the purpose of withholding the sacraments from a public figure.

When a bishop does so, he is acting not in the temporal realm of laws and public policies. He is acting as a spiritual shepherd, responsible for the salvation of souls.

As such, he has made a determination that this most drastic action is necessary: first, to warn the offending Catholic public figure that he or she is imperiling their immortal soul by persisting in using their power and influence to promote a grave moral evil; and secondly, to warn other Catholics in public life against jeopardizing their souls by being led into promoting the same moral evil.   

Having determined that this action is necessary to save souls, a bishop cannot be deterred by its perceived effect on laws and public policies, nor on public opinion or media reaction.

In 1962, New Orleans Archbishop Joseph Rummel excommunicated three prominent Catholics for their very public, and obstinate, promotion of racial segregation. Through the severity of this act, he hoped to make them realize that their publicly avowed racism was placing their souls in grave danger—and thereby persuade them to turn away from that moral evil. Two of them ultimately did so, recanting their support for racial segregation and returning to the Church’s good graces before they died.   

While we cannot know how many other Catholics might have been dissuaded from supporting segregation by the archbishop’s action, that purpose—avoiding “giving scandal” by leading others into serious sin—was surely part of his motivation as well.

Some on the Catholic left are engaging in all kinds of contortions to differentiate between Archbishop Rummel’s excommunication of Catholic segregationists, and today’s possible denial of Communion to pro-abortion Catholic politicians.  

But the only differences that really matter seem to involve the issues being addressed and the Catholic politicians being affected.

Archbishop Rummel’s action was widely popular in progressive circles and mainstream media at the time—and is lauded by them today—because they staunchly, and rightly, oppose racial segregation.

Similar action by today’s bishops toward Catholic politicians who promote abortion is wildly unpopular in progressive circles and mainstream media, because they almost universally support unrestricted abortion.  And it is unpopular among some on the Catholic left because they like the generally “progressive” positions that most pro-abortion Catholic politicians take on “other issues.” They reduce the injustice of abortion to a “single issue,” and berate the bishops for prioritizing it—even as they have no problem with Archbishop Rummel’s having prioritized the “single issue” of racial injustice.

As I have written previously, I do not advocate withholding the Eucharist from pro-abortion Catholic politicians, and I certainly do not believe in lobbying bishops to do so. Some pro-life Catholics do urge the bishops to such action, either because they believe—mistakenly, in my view—that it will be helpful in restoring legal protection for the unborn; or because they want Catholic politicians punished for their role in facilitating the killing of unborn children.

But neither of those reasons is the purpose of such action by the bishops; nor is it for us to judge whether and when a bishop should be moved to such a drastic measure. Which is why I also oppose lobbying bishops against taking such action, as progressive Catholics are wont to do.

This awesome responsibility is placed solely on the shoulders of the bishops, acting as spiritual shepherds. As such, it is to be invoked only when a bishop deems it necessary to safeguard souls—the soul of the person who persists in grave moral evil, and the souls of others who might be led by his behavior into the same moral evil. The purpose is not to punish, but to save souls.

Thus, when a bishop, acting in good conscience and guided by Church teaching and the facts of a specific case, deems it necessary, as an urgent spiritual corrective, to withhold the Eucharist from an individual who persists in publicly promoting a grave moral evil—such as abortion—he should have the prayerful support of all Catholics.

It is not surprising that pro-abortion politicians, activists, and media would misread, misunderstand, or willfully mischaracterize the bishop’s intent.

No faithful Catholic should join in doing so.