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.      

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.