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.      

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.