Christmas Hope

And so it is Christmas.  And it is a Christmas so unlike any we have ever experienced before.

Always, despite whatever challenges, crises or sufferings have confronted us—individually, as families, or in the wider world—Christmas has been a time of joy and celebration, of togetherness, and most important, a time of hope.

Now, from our families, churches and communities, out across the length and breadth of our nation and beyond, encompassing the entire world, we are in the grip of a pandemic that stifles our joy, mutes our celebrations, and greatly limits our togetherness. Add to that the economic deprivation caused by our response to the pandemic; the anger and hatred that afflict virtually every part of our culture and seem to be tearing our nation apart; and worldwide issues that many see as existential, whether the effects of climate change, the growing menace of Communist China’s designs for world domination, or the continued mass destruction of new human lives by abortion—and there seems far more reason for fear and trepidation than for hope, for our world or humanity itself.

And indeed, if we are limited to our human capacities alone, there is little reason for hope.

Yes, human beings and human institutions can make our earthly lives better; they can also make them infinitely worse. Throughout history, the world has experienced political leaders and political systems who have advanced justice and freedom; others, however, have imposed terrible oppressions and injustice. Some economic systems have enhanced prosperity; others have only increased poverty and hunger. Science, in human hands, has been used to advance the human condition and alleviate suffering, but also misused to terrorize humanity and threaten world survival.

But Christmas reminds us that we need not rely solely on our fallible human inclinations and abilities.  

Christmas reminds us of, indeed re-enacts for us, an all-loving God’s gift to us of His divine Son—who, having sinlessly taken all of our merited suffering upon Himself to atone for our sins, accompanies us with His love through every step of our earthly journey, leading us home to the eternal salvation He has won for us on the Cross.

That is the essence of the hope Jesus brings to us each Christmas—hope not in transient, earthly matters, but in our transcendent destiny. The hope He gives us, like His kingdom, is not of this world. He does not promise to make our earthly lives free of suffering and struggle. What He does promise is that He will be there with us, to lead us safely through those earthly trials, if we but seek His help.  

Every Christmas, when I listen to the hymn “Away in a Manger,” I think of my Mom when I hear this line in the third verse: “Bless all the dear children in thy tender care.” I recall how her heart broke, and how she prayed, over the suffering of children, be it from poverty and hunger, abuse, disease, the fear and terror of warfare, or being violently dismembered and killed by abortion. And I am moved to offer my own prayer that God will indeed bless and protect all suffering children.  

This year, however, I would suggest that we all take to heart the entire third verse of that beautiful hymn. For it speaks to our need—always, but especially in these difficult, turbulent times—to put our trust in Jesus, not in human endeavors; to avail ourselves of His unending love and mercy; and to have hope, not in earthly aspirations, but in the eternal joy of heaven that is our God-given destiny.    

Be near me, Lord Jesus; I ask thee to stay

Close by me forever, and love me, I pray.

Bless all the dear children in thy tender care,

And fit us for heaven to live with thee there.

Have a blessed and merry Christmas!

The Death Penalty

A spate of federal executions in the waning days of the Trump administration is deeply troubling.

Let’s be clear: capital punishment is not morally equivalent to abortion.

  • While innocent persons are sometimes wrongly executed, every abortion involves the intentional killing of a completely innocent young life.
  • Every person on death row is accorded extensive due process before they can be executed. Innocent unborn children are afforded no due process before their lives are violently taken.
  • The sheer difference in numbers: If the occasional execution of a convicted murderer desensitizes us to the gravity of killing—as I believe it does—then haven’t we become absolutely morally numbed by the deliberate killing of more than 60 million innocent babies over the last five decades?

So there are clear differences.

Yet recent popes, with good reason, have clearly and consistently called for ending the death penalty as a means of punishment for and protection from violent criminals. 

Saint John Paul II instructed that capital punishment should not be employed when “bloodless means” would suffice to protect society from violent crime. He later went further, declaring that in modern times instances when bloodless means would not suffice are “rare if not practically non-existent.”

Pope Benedict XVI urged “society’s leaders…to make every effort to eliminate the death penalty.”

And Pope Francis has stated that “Today the death penalty is inadmissible, no matter how serious the crime committed.”

There are many practical reasons for opposing the death penalty. It can be unevenly applied; extenuating circumstances, like mental illness, can mitigate a convicted person’s moral culpability; and of course, innocent people can and do get wrongly convicted. With advances in technology and DNA testing, and the seminal work of groups like the Innocence Project, more and more convictions are being overturned, and innocent people freed from incarceration. That cannot happen if they have already—in the name of “justice”—been wrongly executed by the state, in the ultimate act of injustice.

Yet none of these get to the heart of the Church’s opposition to capital punishment. For even when the facts are beyond dispute—guilt well-established, culpability irrefutable, the death penalty applied equitably—the Church still opposes it.

For—again, without equating capital punishment with the “intrinsic evil” of abortion—the Church sees that the death penalty undermines our efforts to uphold the sanctity of human life.   

Particularly in a world where violence and death are perpetually—some would say pathologically—employed as “solutions” to human problems, involving the state in one more manifestation of that approach can only accelerate the cycle of violence.  

Then there is the question of mercy. Recalling that Pope John Paul II, during his 1999 visit to St. Louis, had appealed for the commutation of a death sentence there, the bishops explained that the pope “did not request a re-evaluation of the merits of the condemned man’s case. Rather, he presented a simple and straightforward appeal for mercy.”

I find this particularly challenging. Not in every case. My heart goes out to some convicted of violent crimes, who seem tormented by terrible abuses or trials in their own lives. In other cases, however, murders seem so cruel, so heartless that—even as I remain philosophically opposed to the death penalty—I struggle to find in my heart any desire for mercy for the perpetrators.

Two of the murderers in these recent executions fit that category for me. In one case, the killer raped a 16-year-old girl over a drug dispute with her brothers, then buried her alive. Think about that. Experience in your mind the slow, agonizing, horrible death that young girl was made to suffer.  

Another man cruelly tortured and brutally murdered his own two-year-old daughter. Some who oppose the death penalty tend to romanticize those facing execution, and to harshly judge any who disagree with them. They need to read exactly what this man did to that poor, defenseless baby girl. 

Yet there are other stories, just as powerful. Bill Pelke initially supported the death penalty for the teen-age girl who brutally stabbed his grandmother to death. But later, inspired by the memory of his grandmother’s devout Christian faith, he envisioned her in tears at this young girl’s impending execution. He forgave the girl, intervened to have her death sentence commuted, and became a lifelong advocate for abolishing capital punishment until he died several weeks ago.

The mercy and forgiveness in his heart is something we all should aspire to.   

At the same time, just as we strive not to judge or condemn women who abort their own children, let us not presume to judge those who support execution for the murderers of their loved ones.

We seek to respond with love and compassion to the woman facing a crisis pregnancy. We try to offer her life-affirming alternatives, and to gently, lovingly persuade her to choose life for her child. But if she does not, we do not abandon her, do not condemn her. Instead, we who are pro-life continue to offer her love and care and healing.

Similarly with families of murder victims, forced not only to cope with terrible loss, but often to relive in their minds the unspeakable suffering their loved one went through. We must respond to their suffering with love and understanding; gently encourage them to embrace a nonlethal form of punishment for their loved one’s killer; try to help them find the true peace that only forgiveness and mercy can bring.

But if they too make a different choice, and support the execution of their loved one’s killer, we must not judge and condemn them. We must continue to love them unconditionally, and still try to help them find healing and peace.  

So let us oppose capital punishment—to avoid wrongly executing innocent people; to slow our descent into the culture of death; and above all, to temper justice with mercy, knowing that ultimately, our own salvation is wholly dependent on God tempering His judgement with His divine mercy, for each of us.

And let us not be judgmental toward those who, suffering from the violent murder of a loved one, cannot bring themselves to ask for mercy for the perpetrator. Let us have understanding and compassion for them in their pain—a pain that, please God, most of us will never have to endure.

In Defense of Religious Freedom

The U.S. Supreme Court issued a welcome decision recently, upholding Brooklyn Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio’s challenge to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s restrictions on religious gatherings in the wake of an upsurge in coronavirus cases. 

As recounted by Catholic News Service, the Diocese of Brooklyn first went into federal court in October to challenge the new restrictions, and on Nov. 12 asked the Supreme Court to issue “an injunction against the governor’s executive order limiting in-person congregations at houses of worship to 10 or 25 people.”

The diocese noted that such arbitrary limits did not take into account the expansive size of various churches, which would have allowed for greater numbers with room for safe social distancing. Moreover, while imposing such stringent restrictions on religious gatherings, the diocese noted, the governor’s mandate allowed “numerous secular businesses to operate without any capacity restrictions.”

In a 5-4 ruling on November 5, the Supreme Court agreed that Cuomo’s order did not appear neutral and seemed to single out “houses of worship for especially harsh treatment.”

Justice Neil Gorsuch was particularly pointed about this double standard, writing sarcastically in a separate opinion that “It may be unsafe to go to church, but it is always fine to pick up another bottle of wine, shop for a new bike.”

It has also been fine, in Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio’s New York as in Democrat-run cities and states across America, for massive demonstrations to be held in which participants packed together shoulder-to-shoulder, shouting and chanting, with no concerns about social distancing or wearing masks to prevent the spread of COVID.

Indeed, this was the second time a federal court rebuked Cuomo for subjecting churches to an unfair double standard. The first was back in June, when U.S. District Court Judge Gary Sharpe contrasted restrictions on faith gatherings imposed by Cuomo and de Blasio with their allowing massive anti-police protests to proceed without any restrictions whatsoever—“encouraging,” the judge said, “what they knew was a flagrant disregard of the outdoor limits and social distancing rules.” In doing so, he said, de Blasio and Cuomo “sent a clear message that mass protests are deserving of preferential treatment.”

Only certain mass protests, however. Anyone think that Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser—who also looked the other way when protesters disregarded COVID safety restrictions—will be so forgiving next month if March for Life participants similarly blow off COVID safety measures? That is, if city authorities allow the pro-life march to happen at all! Of course, if it does happen, it seems certain—given the more than 40-year history of these incredibly peaceful massive gatherings—that the vast majority of pro-life marchers will conscientiously follow COVID safety protocols, committed as they are to the sanctity of human life.

Similarly, there is probably no institution that has been more conscientious about following coronavirus safety protocols than the Catholic Church. Here in America—and indeed, throughout the world, under Pope Francis’ leadership—the Church has bent over backwards, not only to comply with government public safety mandates, but even to go beyond them.

For months, our parishes and dioceses prohibited indoor services, so that we could not attend Mass, let alone receive the Eucharist. During this time, a number of priests and bishops extended themselves in creative ways, holding outdoor Eucharistic processions or offering drive-up confessions so that we could avail ourselves of the sacrament of Reconciliation. Some began offering outdoor Masses when and where those were permitted. When indoor Masses were first resumed, here on Long Island and I’m sure elsewhere as well, Communion was not offered. When it was finally restored, it was moved to the very end of the liturgy, and we were told to exit the Church immediately upon receiving, with no time to kneel in prayer after partaking of the body and blood of Jesus.

The pews continue to be roped or taped off to maintain proper social distancing, and we still have no missalettes with which to follow the readings or join in the hymns. Now with Christmas approaching—a day when our churches are always packed—extra Masses are being scheduled in most parishes to accommodate all who wish to attend while still maintaining safe social distancing. And here on Long Island, whenever I walk through downtown Rockville Centre, seat of our diocese, I notice that while the rest of the village is bustling—office buildings, banks, restaurants, entertainment venues all open and active—our diocesan pastoral center remains closed up tight, going now on ten months.

Given this exemplary record of sacrifice in service to public safety, Catholics and the Church merit the utmost respect from government when we assert our right to worship and our ability to do so without endangering the public health.

Certainly, we deserve not to be singled out for “especially harsh treatment” by our self-proclaimed Catholic governor.

Kudos to Bishop DiMarzio for standing firm against such harsh treatment, and in defense of religious freedom. And kudos to the Supreme Court, whose ruling in this case—joined by President Trump’s three appointees—affords at least a modicum of hope that they will be a bulwark against all the attacks on religious liberty sure to come in the difficult times ahead.

Abortion and the Eucharist

Joe Biden’s apparent election brings to the fore the question of pro-abortion Catholic politicians being denied the Eucharist. Washington D.C.’s Archbishop, Cardinal Wilton Gregory, swiftly renounced any intent to do so, despite the Catholic Biden’s embrace of extreme pro-abortion policies.     

I have always been reticent about pressuring bishops to take this action, for reasons I’ll explain shortly. Nevertheless, there is both precedent and Church teaching that affirm doing so.

In 1962, New Orleans Archbishop Joseph Rummel excommunicated powerful local official Leander Perez and two others for their persistent promotion of racial segregation. Some today oppose “politicizing” the Eucharist by withholding it from pro-abortion Catholic politicians. Would they likewise have accused Archbishop Rummel of politicizing the sacrament by withholding it from those promoting racism?

And don’t some politicians themselves politicize the Eucharist, publicly receiving Communion in order to portray themselves as faithful Catholics while supporting policies the Church holds to be “intrinsically evil?” Some months ago, Cardinal Gregory angrily denounced what he saw as President Trump’s politicizing of the Saint John Paul II Shrine in Washington. Yet he musters only a vague reference to “some areas where we won’t agree” when discussing (or avoiding discussing) Biden’s pro-abortion extremism.

Definitive teaching on this matter came in a 2004 memo to the U.S. Bishops from then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.

“When a person’s formal cooperation becomes manifest (understood, in the case of a Catholic politician, as his consistently campaigning and voting for permissive abortion and euthanasia laws),” wrote the future Pope Benedict XVI, he should be instructed that “he is not to present himself for Holy Communion until he brings to an end the objective situation of sin,” and be warned “that he will otherwise be denied the Eucharist.”

If the person continues to promote these attacks on innocent human life, and “with obstinate persistence, still presents himself to receive the Holy Eucharist, the minister of Holy Communion must refuse to distribute it,” Cardinal Ratzinger concluded.

Pretty straightforward.

So why am I reticent about urging such action on the bishops?

Well first, I do not share the belief that such action would be a “magic bullet” for the pro-life cause, prompting pro-abortion Catholic pols to suddenly reverse themselves and embrace legal protection for the unborn.

Maybe that would have happened 50 years ago, although I am dubious even about that. But today, with abortion enshrined in our culture; with the Democratic Party having made it a litmus test for political advancement; with various “progressive” Catholics, lay, clergy and episcopal, giving them cover; and with the bishops’ influence at a low ebb due to the abuse scandal and various other factors—I am convinced such action will change nothing with regard to pro-abortion Catholic candidates and officeholders.

Joe Biden well illustrates this. In the past, he tempered his support for legal abortion by embracing certain restrictions—opposing late term abortion; supporting the Hyde Amendment that restricted taxpayer funding for abortion; and even, at one point, saying Roe v. Wade had gone too far.

This year, seeking the nomination of a party that has moved to the furthest possible pro-abortion fringe, he abandoned all moderation, embracing late term abortion, supporting repeal of the Hyde Amendment, and promising to codify Roe v. Wade. And when a priest in South Carolina did deny Biden Communion, it did not deter him from these positions.   

Instead, pro-abortion Catholic politicians wear denial of Communion as a political badge of courage, depicting themselves as martyrs being “persecuted” by the bishops—while the truly courageous political martyrs are those like Illinois Congressman Dan Lipinski, who lost his seat in a Democratic primary rather than betray his pro-life principles.

More fundamentally, I am against “lobbying” the bishops on this matter because that is not our province as Catholic laity—and because, being a sinner myself, I am not comfortable presuming to judge the worthiness of others to receive the sacred body and blood of Christ.

As I understand it, there are basically two reasons for a bishop to withhold the sacraments.

The first is therapeutic—to persuade the person to end his or her “obstinate persistence in manifest grave sin”—in this case formal cooperation with the “intrinsic evil” of abortion—and thereby to heal and protect their immortal soul. The bishop must weigh carefully whether there is a reasonable expectation that withholding the sacraments will have that effect—or whether, as seems often the case with our pro-abortion Catholic politicians, it will more likely push them into further obstinacy and thereby deeper sin.

The second reason for a bishop to take such action is to avoid giving scandal—defined by the Church as engaging in behavior that has the potential to lead others into serious sin.

Here, I think, an arguable case can be made. Aspiring Catholic politicians, seeing others suffer no consequences for promoting abortion in defiance of Church teaching, may be tempted to follow suit if it is to their political advantage.

Let me be clear. Whenever a bishop denies the Eucharist to a pro-abortion Catholic public official—whether as a therapeutic corrective to protect the person’s soul, or to avoid giving scandal that could lead others into the same serious sin—that bishop will have my unqualified support.

But I will not lobby the bishops to take such action—not only because I do not think it will be helpful to our pro-life cause, but primarily because that is not my role as a Catholic lay person.

My responsibility as a Catholic citizen is to promote laws and public policies that uphold the sanctity of life —and to elect public officials who will enact such laws and policies.

Judging whether to deny the sacraments to Catholic officeholders who fail to do so is the province of the bishops—for which they are answerable to God, not to me. And I am eternally thankful that that awesome responsibility is on their shoulders, not on mine. 

Catholic Teaching and Prudential Judgment

While I have emphasized from the start that I want this blog to be a forum for the kind of civil discourse so absent in today’s public square, I did not intend for that to mean an absence of strongly stated convictions. My point was and is simply that we can argue forcefully for what we believe—and against that which we consider harmful—while still respecting those with whom we disagree.  

My intention is to examine critical issues from a Catholic perspective—that is, from within the context of Catholic moral and social teachings. Of course, what I will be offering on many of these issues are my own prudential judgments—informed, I hope, by those Catholic teachings, but not the only or exclusive conclusions that Catholics may in good conscience reach on such issues.

I won’t, in other words, succumb to the temptation (paraphrasing an old Rush Limbaugh line) to  declare that “the views expressed in this blog are not necessarily those of all Catholics—but they oughtta be!”

Rather, I’ll try to keep in mind the teaching I have cited previously from Gaudium et spes, Vatican II’s Constitution on the Church in the Modern World: that while one person’s “Christian vision will suggest a certain solution in some given situation,” it “happens rather frequently, and legitimately so, that some of the faithful, with no less sincerity, will see the problem quite differently”; and that “in those cases no one is permitted to identify the authority of the Church exclusively with his own opinion.”

So, for example, those who favor massive federal programs as the solution to poverty should not assume that all who disagree are necessarily uncaring toward the poor. Some might instead see free market policies, designed to stimulate economic growth and the creation of jobs, as the real answers to alleviating poverty.

Regarding criminal justice, those rightly concerned about preserving law and order should not dismiss those promoting “restorative justice” as being “soft on crime”; conversely, proponents of restorative justice need to be sensitive to the suffering of crime victims, and supportive of efforts to protect the innocent. Supporters of law and order, in turn, must recognize that protecting the innocent also means securing justice for those wrongly accused or wrongly convicted of crimes they did not commit.

On immigration, those on both sides should stop demonizing their opponents. While there is an element of bigotry among some immigration opponents (going all the way back to Margaret Sanger, who targeted certain “undesirable” groups for immigration restrictions as well as birth control), that hardly characterizes all who have legitimate concerns about border security. On the other hand, while there are legitimate concerns about a criminal element among illegal immigrants (a concern particularly felt in immigrant communities, on whom that criminal element primarily preys), it is grossly unjust to stereotype all undocumented immigrants as dangerous criminals. Regardless of one’s feelings about the need for border security, I have always been at a loss to understand the vitriol directed at people who come here, often at great peril, simply to try to do better for their families.      

On these and so many other issues of life and justice, as Gaudium et spes instructs, we are not justified in asserting that our policy position—even if it comports with Catholic moral and social teaching—is the only policy judgment consistent with that teaching.

Instead, we should thoughtfully—and prayerfully—examine each such issue in light of the Church’s teachings; try to reach our best prudential judgments as to how to apply those teachings in ways that best serve the common good; then share our conclusions while respectfully considering differing prudential judgments, reached no less sincerely, by others equally committed to applying Catholic moral and social teaching to the issue at hand.    

In short, let us, as Gaudium et spes encourages, “try to guide each other by sincere dialogue in a spirit of mutual charity and with anxious interest above all in the common good.”

Our Daily Bread

Commuting to Manhattan for the past five years, I tried to spend some of my time on the train platform each morning in silent prayer (usually having left myself no time for morning prayer at home before rushing to catch my train). And I took to meditating on one particular petition in the Our Father:

“Give us this day our daily bread.”  

I would invoke it first to ask for God’s blessing on my own day, for the strength and guidance to meet whatever challenges that particular workday might present. 

Then I would call to mind family members, loved ones and friends, co-workers, neighbors, asking God to provide the “daily bread” they needed, either in a general sense or to cope with specific challenges I was aware of in their lives.    

And finally I would try to focus  more broadly on the myriad of problems, crises, and sufferings that afflict our world, asking our Lord to give to all struggling people whatever “daily bread” would help them, spiritually as well as temporally, through their day.

And it occurs to me that now, in the aftermath of a bitter and still disputed election, might be a good time, as Catholics, for us to draw back a bit from the political turmoil. Rather than looking to government to provide all the answers to human suffering and injustice, perhaps we might reflect on what we can do personally to help those in our families, our communities, our parishes, who are suffering or in need.

In short, we might ask God, as part of our own “daily bread,” to help us be the daily bread for those in our lives who need whatever material, spiritual, or emotional care we could lovingly offer.  

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not dismissing the role of government. But too often we look to government as the first resort in providing for people’s needs, even when we can and should step in ourselves, in ways better suited to help individuals in our own midst.

Dorothy Day, co-founder of the Catholic Worker who devoted her life to caring for the poor (and whose sainthood cause continues to grow), articulated this well, lamenting that in preferring “state responsibility” for those in need, we were abdicating our “personal responsibility.” She urged “delegat(ing) to smaller bodies and groups what can be done far more humanly and responsibly through mutual aid, as well as charity, through Blue Cross, Red Cross, union cooperation, parish cooperation.”

This is the essence of the Church’s teaching on subsidiarity: that human needs are best addressed by those closest to them, in families, communities, churches—and, where government assistance is needed, beginning with local government. Only when local, more personal efforts are impractical or inadequate should we turn to distant, impersonal—and, as Saint Pope John Paul II observed, often wasteful and overly bureaucratic—national government programs.

Of course, relying on personal responsibility requires that we become personally involved, that we exude “attentive and pressing concern for (our) neighbor,” in St. John Paul’s words.

“To reach the man in the street you must go to the street,” Dorothy Day wrote.

Now all of us are not in a position to devote our lives, as she did, to living among the poor and homeless.  But we can all look around us, in our families, our neighborhoods, our parishes, to see who is in need of some form of “daily bread” that we might help provide: a lonesome neighbor or relative who we might regularly invite into our home for a hot meal and warm companionship; a struggling family with whom we might share some of the food and clothing we are blessed to have; a sick or elderly “shut-in” or nursing home resident we could make time to visit; a young woman facing a crisis pregnancy, or a single mother who is struggling after choosing life for her baby, either of whom would welcome whatever material, emotional or spiritual support we can provide; a friend or neighbor whom we might accompany in their caregiving for an elderly or terminally ill loved one, perhaps even stepping in on occasion to give them a much needed respite.

The needs—and thus opportunities for loving service—are endless. Of course, these individual acts of love and kindness cannot negate the need for larger, more organized efforts through private and religious charities or government agencies. And we can also endeavor to do more, volunteering at our parish outreach or St. Vincent de Paul Society, at a local crisis pregnancy center, soup kitchen, or nursing home.

But at the very least, we can reach out individually to those around us, sharing our love and caring, as well as our material resources. And in fact that is not the least, it is rather the most we can do, because it is giving of ourselves in the most intimate, personal, and thereby most meaningful way, to people close to us.

So please, Lord, give us this day the daily bread we need to help be the daily bread for those in our lives who need, and long for, our love and care.

Vote to Save Pregnancy Care Centers in NY

I wrote last week about the loving care we need to provide—and that the Church and the pro-life movement have been providing for years—for mothers in crisis pregnancy situations. I noted that we can sometimes lose sight of the personal dimensions of this and other life and justice issues, amid the broader—and necessary—political struggles over laws and public policies.

But alas, even in our efforts to assist individual mothers in crisis, we cannot avoid the impact of laws and public policies, and the political machinations behind them.

In New York right now, there is insidious legislation pending that targets pro-life pregnancy resource centers for extinction.

Of course, the bill’s sponsors, Assemblywoman Deborah Glick and Senator Brad Hoylman, do not attempt to outlaw these pro-life centers directly. That, they know, could be politically damaging even in New York, and would probably not pass constitutional muster.

Instead, the legislation would authorize a state investigation designed to drain the resources of these largely volunteer, underfunded centers, and to set the stage for pressuring them to provide abortion counseling and referrals.

As the New York State Catholic Conference explains, the legislation “would authorize the New York State Commissioner of Health to conduct a study and issue a report on the impact of pro-life pregnancy centers in the state. The pre-determined outcome of the ‘study’ is that such services are too ‘limited’ in denying pregnant women access to abortion.”  

The giveaway on the intent of this legislation is that it authorizes no similar state investigation of abortion clinics. Instead, as an article on the pro-life site liveaction.org notes, the “language of the bill assumes that abortion businesses are the gold standard”—even though “many women have testified that abortion facilities are the ones which did not provide them with accurate information on their full range of pregnancy options, did not provide accurate details about their babies’ development, did not provide accurate information about what the abortion experience would be.”

So the intent of the bill is clearly not to require that all pregnancy-related facilities provide complete information about women’s choices. Abortion businesses, which make money from their “service,” are not being investigated to assure that they provide information about alternatives to abortion. Only pro-life centers—which make no money from their services, and which, in fact, provide a range of products and services for free—are to be investigated, to make sure they provide information about access to abortion.

Two years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a California law that explicitly required pro-life pregnancy centers to inform clients about state-provided abortion “services.” The law, as Justice Clarence Thomas explained, violated the free speech rights of the pro-life centers by requiring them to promote “the very practice (they) are devoted to opposing.”

It would seem, then, that whatever pre-determined “investigation” outcome Glick and Hoylman envision in New York, a subsequent law requiring pro-life centers to promote abortions would similarly be found unconstitutional. So what is their endgame?

“It appears,” the state Catholic Conference observes, that “the intention of the bill is to intimidate, silence and shut down pro-life pregnancy centers. This legislation will force such centers, which rely primarily on volunteer workers, to turn over to the state voluminous data including funding sources, services, staffing, operational guidelines, client demographics and more, even if they receive no state subsidies. The majority of pro-life pregnancy centers do not receive government funding.”

The intention, in other words—in a state “that prides itself on being ‘pro-choice,’” as the Catholic Conference points out—is to “obstruct the choice of childbirth.” And thereby to enhance New York’s standing, not as a “pro-choice” state, but as the abortion capital of the nation.

Right now, the only way to stop this legislation is to change the make-up of the New York State Senate. The Assembly is overwhelmingly pro-abortion, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo, having last year signed into law the most radical pro-abortion statute in the country, is hardly likely to veto this bill. But the legislation must still pass the Senate—and undoubtedly will if the Democrats maintain their control there as well. Only by electing a Republican majority to the State Senate next Tuesday can we hope to block this bill.  

Although I am no longer constrained from political endorsements as I was when working for the Church or for a non-profit, I have assiduously avoided partisan electioneering in my blog postings to date. But in this case—if we are truly committed to offering women loving, life-affirming alternatives to abortion—we must vote to stop this law. Indeed, those Catholics who argue that we should focus entirely on providing services to women before, during and after birth—rather than on passing laws to protect the unborn—should be particularly motivated to block this legislation, which directly attacks those very services for women.

And so I urge all readers who live in New York to act to save our pro-life pregnancy centers, and all the services they lovingly provide to mothers and children, by voting to elect your Republican candidate for the New York State Senate.  

Love Them Both

As I noted last week, while contentious political campaigns tend to focus our attention on the broad implications of laws and policies impacting on life and justice issues, we must not lose sight of the personal impact such issues have on individual lives, and our personal responsibility to assist those with whom we come in contact.

So, for example, while we formulate ideas about how best to address poverty on a broad scale, we need to be aware of those struggling with deprivation in our own midst—in our families and communities—see their faces, feel their suffering, and respond to their needs in whatever ways we can.

Similarly with concerns about law and order: We need to feel for individual victims of violent crime, their suffering and that of their loved ones, and again, respond when such individuals intersect with our own lives. And, difficult though we may find it, we are also called, as Catholic Christians, to respond to perpetrators of violent crime—to try to understand the sometimes terrible life experiences that may have contributed to their violent tendencies, and to support restorative justice approaches designed to help them, during and after their incarceration, to turn their lives around.

And, when it comes to abortion, we need to open our hearts to endangered children in the womb and to their mothers, for whom our culture too often presents abortion as theironlychoice.

This was one of the first things I learned when I became involved in the pro-life movement at a young age. I was very politically focused at the time, and to me the issue was purely one of politics and legislation. But as I met and talked with pro-life people, they impressed upon me the imperative to “love them both,” mothers and their pre-born children. They sensitized me to the suffering and pressures mothers face in such situations: being young and unwed, sometimes  already living in poverty, and worried about the long-term impact on their lives and also about their and their child’s immediate needs; or facing overbearing pressure to abort, and subsequent abandonment if they do not, from family, friends, and especially their child’s father; sometimes facing concerns that their child might be born with a disability, and fears that they would be unable to provide adequate care for a disabled child.

These are just some of the circumstances that can make an unintended pregnancy so terrifying for so many women.

And so love and care for mothers in crisis has always been an integral part of the pro-life movement. From the movement’s earliest days, Birthright organizations, here on Long Island and throughout the country, have offered referrals, for medical support, financial resources, housing, legal and social assistance, and professional counseling; information about pregnancy and childbirth, adoption, prenatal care, community programs, and training in parenting skills and child care; and free resources including pregnancy tests, maternity clothes and baby items, and 24/7 telephone helplines. Most of all, they have offered friendship, love and hope to women in crisis.

Thousands of other pro-life pregnancy care ministries, like the Life Center of Long Island, Expectant Mother Care in New York City, and the Sisters of Life, have sprung up across America in the decades since. Critical to their work are the pro-life sidewalk counselors who pray for women and their unborn babies about to enter abortion clinics, and reach out with love to offer them a life-affirming alternative, guiding them, if they so choose, to one of these pregnancy support centers.

These ministries have grown to include maternity residences, like those on Long Island such as Mommas House, Bethany House, Catholic Charities Regina Residence, and Mother of Good Counsel House, run by the Oblate Sisters of the Most Holy Redeemer. And of course there are The Good Counsel homes, in New York City and beyond, begun in 1985 by Chris Bell when, while working and living at Covenant House in Times Square, a ministry for homeless youth, he  saw an urgent need to assist homeless, pregnant women.

These maternity residences typically provide young single mothers with housing and assistance through pregnancy, childbirth, and into motherhood, providing childcare and affording them the opportunity to develop parenting skills, complete their education and receive job training.

Also vital to “loving them both” are the post-abortion healing services that the Life Center and Good Counsel homes provide, as does the Church through Project Rachel and the Sisters of Life hope and healing program. Despite calls from the Hollywood crowd and radical feminists for women to “celebrate your abortion,” the life-ending procedure is far more often an emotionally traumatizing experience—and, as thousands of post-abortive women have attested, the pain does not easily go away. Since the abortion lobby will not even acknowledge the pain and trauma that so often follow an abortion, it falls to the pro-life movement and the Church to provide physical, emotional, and spiritual post-abortion healing—and they do so lovingly, helping women—and men—to recover from the abortion of their child; to forgive themselves and experience God’s love and mercy; and to know that we who are pro-life have always loved them, and always will.

That love—for mother and child, and for all human life—is the essence of the pro-life movement, and the true fulfillment of the Gospel of Life proclaimed by Saint John Paul.

Abortion’s Victims, Born and Unborn

October is Respect Life Month. Begun by the U.S. bishops in 1972, its intent, at least in part, is to focus attention prior to Election Day on the broad implications of laws and policies that impact on the sanctity of life.

At the same time, we must never lose sight of the personal impact that such issues have on individual lives—for example, the impact that abortion has, on unborn babies and also on mothers in crisis.

Next week, we’ll discuss what must be done—and what the Church and the pro-life movement are already doing—to respond to the needs of women in crisis pregnancies; to offer life-affirming alternatives to the challenges that can otherwise lead them to see abortion as their only choice; and to help provide healing for the many women (and men) who are suffering deeply from an abortion experience.

This week let us consider the baby in the womb.

Among the most powerful testaments to the living humanity of the unborn child is offered by actual survivors of abortion—women and men who were aborted in the womb, but who, even as tiny infants, had the tenacity to fight for their lives and survive.

Their lives testify to the reality of abortion. No one can look at them, or hear their stories, and deny that abortion kills; that every successful abortion destroys a living, growing human being. They are living, breathing refutations of the abortion culture’s discredited claim that there is no meaningful life before birth. All who identify as “pro-choice” should ask themselves: would I be willing to look these abortion survivors in the eye and tell them, “You should not be alive. You have violated your mother’s right to choose.” 

One such survivor, Melissa Ohden, has founded the Abortion Survivors Network. Click on this link to read some of their individual stories. Or read Melissa’s compelling book, You Carried Me: A Daughter’s Memoir (Walden, NY: Plough Publishing House, 2017), which I was privileged to review for the Catholic League several years ago.  

Melissa’s story brings to mind the words of the angel Clarence in Frank Capra’s iconic film, It’s a Wonderful Life: “Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around, he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?”

That is true of all the people whose lives have been so crucial to Melissa: the nurses and staff who first heard her weak cry, got her to the ICU and continued to care for her over the ensuing weeks as she fought to live; her adoptive parents, who took her home and filled her life with love and support; members of her birth families who, when she sought them out years later, helped to make her whole. What awful holes there would have been in Melissa’s life—had she lived at all—without these people.

Then there was the pro-life man she met as she was entering a Planned Parenthood clinic to obtain birth control pills. Upon hearing her story, he invited her to join the pro-life cause, and gave her a rosary—which, she writes, began her slow, inexorable journey into the Catholic Church. Catholics who criticize pro-lifers’ prayer and counseling presence outside abortion clinics might ponder the awful hole that could have existed for Melissa without that man’s crucial presence in her life that day.

More powerful to contemplate are the awful holes that would exist today in the many lives that Melissa has touched so deeply, had she been successfully aborted—or had she been left to die without treatment after surviving the abortion procedure, as her maternal grandmother had demanded (and as government leaders like Govs. Andrew Cuomo of New York and Ralph Northam of Virginia favor allowing—along with Barack Obama, who as a state senator once voted against requiring life-sustaining treatment for such babies).

Consider Melissa’s adoptive parents, for whom this “unwanted” baby, intended to be discarded, became such an integral, loving part of their lives and family; her friends, siblings and extended family members; all the people she ministered to during her career in social work, in the fields of mental health, substance abuse, domestic violence and child welfare; and those to whom she now helps bring hope and healing through her various pro-life ministries. And of course, where would the lives of her own husband and children be without her?

Most dramatic is the awful hole that would have existed—that did, in fact, exist, until Melissa found her—in the life of her birth mother. Melissa learned that her mother had not wanted the abortion, that as a pregnant teen she had been forced into it by her own mother. Learning years later that her daughter had lived, then meeting and forming a loving relationship with her, filled that awful hole in her life; and the relationship also filled the most awful hole in Melissa’s life: the mistaken belief that her own mother had not wanted her.

It is easy to see the holes that would exist in so many lives today if Melissa Ohden had not lived.

But what about the millions of babies who did not live? How many “awful holes,” in how many lives, exist today because the Melissa Ohdens who would have filled them were killed by abortion?

To the mind-numbing tragedy of more than 60 million innocent lives lost, add those countless millions of empty, wounded lives. That gives some idea of the true depth of pain and suffering that America’s abortion carnage has wrought.

Debate was appalling; Will Barrett hearings be worse?

Did you find that debate as painful to watch as I did?

President Trump was beyond rude with his constant interruptions. While his target was Joe Biden, he deprived all of us of the opportunity to hear a clear, decisive exchange on the two candidates’ very different records, philosophies, and policy ideas.

In my view, Trump did himself no favors. He seemed to have some strong points to make, but by constantly intruding, he ended up struggling to be heard over Biden, and thereby stepped on many of his own lines.

Former Vice President Biden, for his part, resorted to childish name-calling, ranging from the petulant—calling Trump a “fool” and a “clown”—to the vicious: “liar” and “racist.” And he topped it off by telling the President to “shut up, man.” 

All in all, it was an appalling demonstration of the very breakdown in civil discourse that we’ve been lamenting on this blog site.

Which brings us to the coming battle over Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Because if the past is prologue, we are in for a nastiness that will make the other night’s debate seem like an afternoon tea. And in this context, sad to say, the viciousness has been all on one side.

I can think of not one instance in recent years where Republican senators engaged in protracted personal attacks against a Democratic president’s nominee. Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan—all with well-known liberal credentials when they were nominated—sailed through with minimal Republican opposition, and relatively mild questioning by GOP senators.

Contrast that with how Democratic senators have repeatedly dragged Republican nominees through the mud, beginning with the disgraceful character assassination against Judge Robert Bork in 1987. Their preferred line of attack in the years since—smearing male Republican nominees with long ago, unreported, unsubstantiated allegations of sexual misbehavior toward women—will not be available to them now as they grill a female nominee.

Perhaps they will resort—as they did when Barrett was nominated for the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in 2017—to attacking her Catholic faith. They might think twice about that, however, given how soundly Sen. Dianne Feinstein was rebuked for it then—not only by Catholics, but by many principled people of varying faiths.

Perhaps instead they will disparage her family life. This is already happening in the blogosphere—with absurd characterizations of her and her husband’s loving adoption of two Haitian children as “racist.” Doubtless, some who favor abortion to reduce the numbers of disabled children—another manifestation of how the abortion mentality targets the victims, rather than the causes of human suffering—will fault Barrett for bringing a Down Syndrome child into the world.

And then there is the ridiculous effort to portray this very accomplished professional woman as a “Handmaid’s Tale” type of wife, totally subservient to her husband in all things, in line with Margaret Atwood’s fairy tale novel that’s treated like scriptural truth by radical feminists.

In fact, Amy Coney Barrett is the very model of what a true feminist would admire—balancing an extraordinarily successful legal career with a strong marriage and a commitment to motherhood. But that is not admired in radical feminist circles where—in addition to perceiving Barrett as being on the “wrong” side of issues like abortion—motherhood and marriage are seen as impediments to, rather than components of, a woman’s fulfillment.

Hopefully, Senate Democrats will see the folly of employing such lines of attack. Even Joe Biden has acknowledged that he is “not opposed to the justice (sic), she seems like a fine person.” They should stick to relevant questions for Judge Barrett about her judicial philosophy; and it is certainly legitimate for them to try to make the case, as Biden did, that Justice Ginsburg’s seat should not be filled until after the election.

But they should, for once, avoid bringing the politics of personal destruction into the confirmation process. It demeans them, it demeans the Senate, and it only further erodes any semblance of the civil discourse that we so desperately need right now.