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Americans United for Life Just released this analysis in an email, and has given permission for its dissemination. Here is AUL on the Hobby Lobby decision today:

Today’s decision: The “contraceptive” mandate violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) by requiring three closely held corporations to provide health insurance coverage for life-ending contraception in violation of the sincerely held religious beliefs of the companies’ owners. Assuming that the government has a “compelling interest” in the mandate (which the Court does not hold, but just assumes for purposes of this case), there are less restrictive means to accomplish their goal.

Breakdown:

Today’s decision applies to closely held corporations (e.g. the Green and Hahn family businesses). The Court strongly explains that these corporations are people:
· “Corporations, ‘separate and apart from’ the human beings who own, run, and are employed by them cannot do anything at all” (36)
· “[P]rotecting the free-exercise rights of corporations like Hobby Lobby, Conestoga, and Mardel protects the religious liberty of the humans who own and control those companies.” (18)

It is based on the Court accepting as their sincere religious belief that these drugs and devices can destroy an embryo:
· “The owners of the businesses have religious objections to abortion, and according to their religious beliefs the four contraceptive methods at issue are abortifacients. If the owners comply with the HHS mandate, they believe they will be facilitating abortions, and if they do not comply, they will pay a very heavy price . . . If these consequences do not amount to a substantial burden, it is hard to see what would.” (2)
· “Like the Hahns, the Greens believe that life begins at conception and that it would violate their religion to facilitate access to contraceptive drugs and devices that operate after that point” (14)
· “[T]he Hahns and Greens have a sincere religious belief that life begins at conception. They therefore object on religious grounds to providing health insurance that covers methods of birth control that, as HHS acknowledges [] may result in the destruction of an embryo. By requiring the Hahns and Greens and their companies to arrange for such coverage, the HHS mandate demands that they engage in conduct that seriously violates their religious beliefs.” (32)
· “the end that they find to be morally wrong (destruction of an embryo)…” (35)
· “HHS and the dissent note that providing the coverage itself would not result in the destruction of an embryo; that would occur only if an employee chose to take advantage of the coverage and to use one of the four methods at issue” (35)
· “The Hahns and Greens believe that providing the coverage demanded by the HHS regulations is connected to the destruction of an embryo in a way that is sufficient to make it immoral for them to provide the coverage.” (36)

The Court ruled the mandate failed the narrow-tailoring requirement of RFRA, pointing to the accommodation as a clearly less-restrictive means of accomplishing the Obama Administration’s stated goal. “HHS itself has demonstrated that it has at its disposal an approach that is less restrictive than requiring employers to fund contraceptive methods that violate their religious beliefs. . . . HHS has already established an accommodation for nonprofit organizations with religious objections.” (43)

The for-profit employers who object to all contraceptives (for example, many of the Catholic employers) should be protected by this ruling since the Mandate violates a sincere religious belief, even though it is not solely regarding the life-ending properties of some of these drugs and devices.
· The Court makes clear: “it is not for us to say that their religious beliefs are mistaken or insubstantial” (37) .
· And, most importantly, the Mandate (as applied to them) also clearly fails to be narrowly tailored means –e.g. non-profit Catholic employers are already “accommodated” with respect to all contraceptives.

The Court acknowledged the dangerous and radical view advanced by the Obama Administration: “Under HHS’s view, RFRA would permit the Government to require all employers to provide coverage for any medical procedure allowed by law in the jurisdiction in question—for instance, third-trimester abortions or assisted suicide. The owners of many closely held corporations could not in good conscience provide such coverage, and thus HHS would effectively exclude these people form full participation in the economic life of the Nation.” (45-46)

The decision does NOT decide the constitutionality/legality of the “accommodation.”
· “We do not decide today whether an approach of this type complies with RFRA for purposes of all religious claims.” (44)
· Footnote 40: “The principal dissent faults us for being ‘noncommital’ in refusing to decide a case that is not before us here. The less restrictive approach we describe accommodates the religious beliefs asserted in these cases, and that is the only question we are permitted to address.” (44)
· There is some troubling language. For example, there is this line on page 9 – “In addition, HHS has effectively exempted certain religious nonprofit organizations, described under HHS regulations as ‘eligible organizations,’ from the contraceptive mandate (emphasis added).”
o We do NOT think the “accommodation” is effectively an exemption – quite the opposite.
o Going forward the accommodation cases must emphasize that the “accommodation” still requires these companies to “arrange” for the coverage, given that they are providing the insurance plan.
· The Court does note that there could be another method (besides the “accommodation”) for achieving the government’s goal — namely, the government could provide the contraception coverage. That indicates that they could also find the accommodation fails to be narrowly tailored.
o “HHS has not shown that it lacks other means of achieving its desired goal without imposing a substantial burden on the exercise of religion . . . . The most straight forward way of doing this would be for the Government to assume the cost of providing the four contraceptives at issue to any women who are unable to obtain them under their health-insurance policies due to their employers’ religious objections.” (40-41)

Importantly, the Court did NOT rule on whether or not the Obama Administration’s stated goal was a compelling interest.
· In order to impose a substantial burden, the government must have a “compelling interest”
· “We find it unnecessary to adjudicate this issue” (pg 40) since it was not narrowly-tailored.
· Acknowledging there are arguments against this being a compelling interest: “The objecting parties contend that HHS has not shown that the mandate serves a compelling government interest, and it is arguable that there are features of ACA that support that view.” (39)
· And the Court acknowledges that “tens of millions” (page 11) have been exempted from the Mandate for non-religious reasons (including grandfathering) – a fact that undermines the government’s claim that forcing this Mandate is compelling (i.e. if it was compelling, they wouldn’t make those millions of exemptions).

The accommodation – whether or not it satisfies RFRA and the Constitution— may be decided by the Court next term.

Since the effect of today’s ruling is that the Obama Administration cannot impose its Mandate on family businesses with sincere religious objections, which it has not exempted, we should be prepared for the Obama Administration to, very soon, extend its “accommodation” at least to closely-held corporations. Because the “accommodation” applies to objections to all contraceptives (not limited to those with life-ending properties), we would expect the Obama Administration to “accommodate” for-profit employers for all the drugs/devices as well. At that point, it will be for the Green and Hahn families, and other family businesses, to decide whether the accommodation violates their conscience and/or whether they pursue litigation over it.

Some other good language from the majority opinion:

· “If the Hahns and the Greens and their companies do not yield to this demand, the economic consequences will be severe.” But the Court also recognizes that the Green and Hahn families would not want to drop insurance coverage for their employees altogether, also because of their religious beliefs: “[T]he Hans and the Greens and their companies have religious reasons for providing health insurance to their employees.”

· Life-affirming healthcare severely punished by Mandate: “If they insist on providing insurance coverage in accordance with their religious beliefs, the mandate clearly imposes a substantial burden on those beliefs” (38)

· “The plain terms of RFRA make it perfectly clear that Congress did not discriminate [] against men and women who wish to run their businesses as for-profit corporations in the manner required by their religious beliefs.” (2)

· “As we have seen, RFRA was designed to provide very broad protection for religious liberty.” (17)

· The dissent, points out the majority, disagrees with RFRA. It doesn’t like the law that broadly protects religious liberty. “In its final pages, the principal dissent reveals that its fundamental objection to the claims of the plaintiffs is an objection to RFRA itself.” (48)

· “Our responsibility is to enforce RFRA as written, and under the standard that RFRA prescribes, the HHS contraceptive mandate is unlawful.” (49)

cogdis

In the latest school shooting, President Obama sums up what many of us believe. From the NY Daily News:

It was the 74th shooting at an American school since the December 2012 massacre at the Sandy Hook Elementary School — and the 37th just this year, according to a tally by Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America…

“This is not acceptable, this is not normal,” he said in a Tumblr chat. “We’re the only developed country on Earth where this happens and it happens now once a week and it’s a one-day story.”
Gun violence in America, Obama said, is “off the charts.”

“There’s no advanced, developed country on Earth that would put up with this,” he said. “This is becoming the norm and we take it for granted in ways that, as a parent, are terrifying to me . . . If public opinion does not demand change in Congress, it will not change.”

While some people think mental illness is the problem, Obama said, “The United States does not have a monopoly on crazy people.” The problem, Obama said, is the availability of guns and “this country has to do a lot of soul searching.”

They really are going by in a blur, all of these school shootings. But blaming the guns misses the mark by a mile.

WHY are these shootings taking place, and WHY now?

We have tighter restrictions on gun purchase and ownership than in any time in America. There is a seeming proportionality between restrictions and violence, but even that cannot explain the motives. Where motive is concerned, there is no one, single, prognosticator. It is rather akin to looking at a painting and taking it all in at once. The components defy logical analysis of themselves and only function in a unified and organic wholeness with one another.

Obama is too myopically focussed on the gun to see the coarsening to life that he himself has championed his whole adult life. He fails to see the 57 million babies torn apart in abortion.

He fails to see the overwhelming majority (~80%) of post-abortive mothers with psychological sequelae.

He fails to see an African American community decimated by 15 million missing members from abortion.

He fails to see the victims of his health legislation who have lost their physicians and their health policies and consequently their cancer therapies.

He fails to see violent video games that are virtual training academies for the real-life violence in our schools.

He fails to see a medical community increasingly lazy and given to passive and active euthanasia.

He fails to see his own failures at stemming the tide of illegal drugs.

He fails to see his Hollywood pals and their culpability in producing a river of filth.

He fails to see the effects of pornography on the devaluation of both men and women.

He fails to see his role in destroying the economic girders that produce jobs, which give young people hope and purpose.

He fails to see how rampant teenage promiscuity factors into young people regarding one another more as objects that exist solely for one’s personal pleasure than as peers to be cherished, and cheerleads Planned Parenthood as they prey upon our children.

He fails to see the abdication of parental responsibility in raising children and overseeing their progress in school.

He fails to see that he presides over a nation that has lost everything:

Standing in the world.

Prosperity.

Sense of mission and purpose.

And worst of all, the very thing he campaigned to restore… HOPE.

So myopically focussed on the guns in this portrait of modern America is our president, that he sees nothing else. The proximal and distal causes all collapse into one dimension with him. Such a man is incapable of leadership, and as we have seen since the beginning, can only blame everyone else for the difficulties over which he presides.

But blaming Obama is as myopic as the president’s vision.

We have brought all of this upon ourselves. We live in a constitutional republic: limited powers to government with elected officials. We have been too narcissistic and hedonistic to care about the destruction wrought by these men and women who come from us, and are a reflection of us. We have lived lives, as a people, that are out of control and have raised children in a coarsened and calloused environment of our own making.

We did this, collectively.

The gun is an afterthought.

The only difference between the victims of Columbine, Sandy Hook, the other school shootings, and the 57 million butchered babies is that these children in school were wanted children.

That’s how to spell “Calloused” and “Hedonistic”.

That’s the America Obama can’t see.

Eagle_Scout_Award

For family, friends and denizens of this blog, I have been chronicling my son Joseph’s growth through the Boy Scouts over the 3 1/2 years since he has joined. Read the several posts here, here, here, here, and here. Joseph has come up through the ranks as a Scout, Tenderfoot, Second Class, First Class, Star, Life, and now on the precipice of becoming an Eagle Scout. He has grown through several leadership positions, most notably as a Den Chief for Cub Scouts, and as a Patrol Leader this year, counselor-in-training at last year’s summer camp, and now off to work for the summer as a full camp counselor. Guest-blogging today is Joseph, in his own words, about the leadership service project he has chosen, and a request from those who may wish to help support the project.

Here in his own words is my hero, Life Scout, Joseph Nadal:
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Dear Reader,

As part of my final steps towards Eagle Scout, I must do the following requirement found in the BSA Handbook:

“While a Life Scout, plan, develop, and give leadership to others in a service project helpful to any religious institution, any school, or your community. (The project must benefit an organization other than Boy Scouting.) A project proposal must be approved by the organization benefiting from the effort, your unit leader and unit committee, and the council or district before you start. You must use the Eagle Scout Service project Workbook, BSA publication No. 512-927 in meeting this requirement.”

The organization I am helping is A Very Special Place, Inc., a group that helps adults with developmental disabilities (such as Autism and Down Syndrome) live fuller lives. The organization has several locations in Staten Island, NY, one of them being their executive offices, with others being centers for day programming and still others being group homes.

During Hurricane Sandy in October, 2012, two of their buildings were severely damaged inside, totaling over $1,000,000 in damages. Having repaired and re-opened the two buildings, one of them (the Adult Day Care center in the devastated New Dorp Beach neighborhood) suffered the loss of thirty-six Arborvitae trees along the front and left side of the building. These trees are all dead or dying from the salty ocean water and other contaminants in the water as can be seen in the photo here.

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My project is to direct the scouts in my troop to:

1. Remove all of the trees along both sides of the building.
2. Rehabilitate the soil using approximately six yards of fresh top soil, three yards of pete moss, and thirty bags of composted cow-manure, mixed together using a rototiller.
3. Plant new Arborvitae trees where old ones existed.
4. Place edging bricks along edge of soil to make 130 feet of flower bed space for the clients to do their occupational therapy in gardening, since the community gardens (on NYC Parks land a few blocks from this location) were washed out from Hurricane Sandy, and NYC has no plans to replace those gardens. The photo below shows a sample brick along the soil’s edge.

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The bricks are necessary to keep the flowers that will be planted from being killed by the landscapers’ weed whackers. I’m also directing the planting of a short Japanese Maple tree in an empty corner of the property surrounded with the same kind of edging brick used for the flower bed stacked three high, and placing a park bench in front of a handicapped ramp. I plan to do this project on June 27, and June 28 July 25 and 26 (this is a two-day project). But in order to do this, I need to raise $3,000 to purchase the trees, soil, peat moss, fertilizer, bricks, and roto-tiller rental.

So today, I am asking if you would care to join in a partnership with me by making a donation to help make this project possible? Your gift (whatever size!) can be claimed as a charitable income tax deduction. (These next four weeks are a narrow window because the trees need to be planted before the August heat at the beach area sets in.) Checks should be written to:

“BSA Troop 37″

The memo on the check should say:

“J. Nadal Project”

BSA policy requires that all money left at the end of the project is to be turned over to the project beneficiary (A Very Special Place, Inc. in this instance). So there’s even better news.

Checks can be mailed to:

Joseph Nadal
℅ BSA Troop 37 Treasurer
33 Ainsworth Avenue
Staten Island, New York 10308

Thank you for taking the time to read this request and for your consideration. Please keep the clients of A Very Special Place, Inc. in your thoughts and prayers as we continue our process of improving their Adult Day Care center.

Respectfully,

Joseph Nadal

{And there he is, in his own words. I’m thinking of turning the blog over to him pretty soon. I’m proud that Joseph has freely chosen this project and developed it as he has. It’s rather poignant for us, and I’m proud of the young man he has become at the ripe old age of 15 years and three weeks. If anyone requires a letter of acknowledgement for tax purposes, A Very Special Place will provide that as the project beneficiary. Joseph will be sending his personal thanks to all. God Bless, G.N.}

“Life is Difficult.”

With those three opening words of profound truth, M. Scott Peck began a self-help revolution in his classic, The Road Less Traveled. It is really a provocative opening line for a book, a statement of the incredibly obvious, and yet a revelation. As one of the central institutions of civilization marriage, too, is difficult. It is life in microcosm, and yet it is the paradigm for civilization itself. Therefore, it should not come as a great surprise to note the parallel realities of a civilization in decline in proportion to the failure rate of that civilization’s marriages.

For decades now, the divorce rate in the United States has hovered at fifty percent.

Life is difficult.

Having known far too many couples who have divorced, having walked the road with them before, during, and after, Peck’s words come as an understatement. In truth life can be brutal, demoralizing, and even dehumanizing. Outside of war and famine, nowhere do these experiences come into such sharp relief as in the experience of a failed marriage. At its completion, people are left broken, often ruined financially, devastated psychologically, and often relieved that the ordeal is finally over.

Being somewhat jaded by these realities, it takes quite a bit to penetrate the shell of cynicism that comes with being a New Yorker. That happened this week when I learned of the increasing popularity of divorce parties that often come with anti-wedding cakes showing either a dead bride or groom, a bride or groom dragging the other out to the trash, or a bride or groom shoving their spouse off the cake. Google “Divorce cakes” to see the macabre celebration of love’s tragic death.

Fox News had an article on the trend. From the article:

Duff Goldman, chef and owner of Charm City Cakes in Baltimore and Charm City Cakes West in Los Angeles, said he has been creating divorce cakes for a decade, with one or so orders a month nowadays.

“We’re thrilled to put a positive spin on what can be a difficult and stressful time for people,” said Duff, whose custom cakes were featured on the Food Network reality show “Ace of Cakes” from 2006 to 2011.

O’Malley’s first big divorce client popped up two years ago. She’s the one who hosted the $25,000 bash at a fancy venue, complete with a cocktail reception, sit-down dinner, toasts and an eight-piece band. She wore white, though not her wedding gown.

“We set up a chapel-looking area and her father walked down the aisle by himself to take her back, instead of give her away,” said O’Malley, who has handled several divorce parties since.

The bridesmaid who caught the woman’s bouquet eight years prior threw one back to her, he said. Wedding gifts were photographed, placed in silver frames and given to gifters in attendance.

“This is something you don’t have to regret, like the wedding,” O’Malley said. “It’s something without any shame.”

Shame is not the issue here, nor should it be. Divorce, and the death of love are brutal. Shame is anticlimactic in context. Rather, the party seems to take the death of something far greater than the individuals and turns its burial into a cause for celebration. So what is being celebrated? To answer that, one needs to delve into the realm of the cognitive and affective on the wedding day itself. There are the love songs that are played, songs that speak of longing, and waiting, and fulfillment. Boyce Avenue’s cover of Christina Perri’s A Thousand Years captures this about as well as any.

Heart beats fast
Colors and promises
How to be brave?
How can I love when I’m afraid to fall?
But watching you stand alone,
All of my doubt suddenly goes away somehow.

One step closer

[Chorus:]
I have died every day waiting for you
Darling, don’t be afraid I have loved you
For a thousand years
I’ll love you for a thousand more

Time stands still
Beauty in all she is
I will be brave
I will not let anything take away
What’s standing in front of me
Every breath
Every hour has come to this

One step closer

[Chorus:]
I have died every day waiting for you
Darling, don’t be afraid I have loved you
For a thousand years
I’ll love you for a thousand more

And all along I believed I would find you
Time has brought your heart to me
I have loved you for a thousand years
I’ll love you for a thousand more

One step closer
One step closer

[Chorus:]
I have died every day waiting for you
Darling don’t be afraid I have loved you
For a thousand years
I’ll love you for a thousand more

And all along I believed I would find you
Time has brought your heart to me
I have loved you for a thousand years
I’ll love you for a thousand more

Quite beautiful, both the lyrics and melody. Moreso, quite a powerful declaration of love, of devotion, of permanence.

It’s against this affective backdrop that vows are made, that promises and expectations are declared before family, friends, and the church assembled. I can think of no more affirming moment in my life, affirmation of all that I am, than when Regina pledged her love and fidelity to me until the day one of us dies. She was (and remains) a beautiful, brilliant, and holy woman who could have had any man she wanted, and yet she chose me and put it all on the line before God and man. The emotional impact of that reality can not be understated, because it sets the table for either great good, or great harm.

Apart from sexual infidelity, which is the only kind envisioned when the word, “infidelity,” is mentioned, there are a thousand other infidelities that creep into a marriage along the way. The vows made on the wedding day are not just for sexual fidelity. Sex is never mentioned explicitly. Our vows were,

“I, ______, take you, ______, to be my wife/husband. I promise to be true to you in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. I will love you and honor you all the days of my life.”

Of course sex is a part of that being, “true to you.” But the reality is that there is so much more in daily life that is a part of being true, of loving and honoring the other. It is primarily in the daily acts of being true that marriages prosper, or wither. Establishing common goals, respecting differences, being slow to anger and quick to forgive have much to do with being true to the other.

The vows point to learning sacrificial love, which grows out of the seed of romantic love, and takes a lifetime to perfect as it is learned in layers. As Dostoyevsky reminds us in The Brothers Karamazov:

“Brothers, love is a teacher, but a hard one to obtain: learning to love is hard and we pay dearly for it. It takes hard work and a long apprenticeship, for it is not just for a moment that we must learn to love, but forever.”

There is a raw and powerful beauty in that kind of love, and a correspondingly raw and powerful bitterness when it doesn’t take root.

Before we began homeschooling the children, Regina would find herself talking with the other mothers in the school yard at morning drop-off. The women would take turns bashing and belittling their husbands, and when they came to Regina in the circle, she would have nothing to contribute, not because I don’t give her heartburn with regularity, but because she loves and respects me in spite of the heartburn. The thought of trashing me was abhorrent to her, and she quickly found herself on the outs with that crowd, many of whom are now divorced.

Knowing many of them, one could see the creeping progression of the illness in their marriages. The tipping point comes when disappointments lead to unforgiveness and loss of respect. It’s seldom sudden, almost always imperceptible, and spiritually toxic. When the ink is finally dry on the divorce, both parties are often psychologically and spiritually exhausted.

After such a journey, no party can bring closure. The wound is too deep. The promise of love has given way to the other feeling better off without their spouse.

It is anti-love, which may be necessary in many cases. But anti-love should never beget celebrations. It should remind us of what Peck did almost forty years ago, and prompt us to address that reality constructively:

Life is difficult.

APTOPIX Italy Pope Epiphany

The most recent dust-up regarding Pope Francis occurred when I posted some scalding commentary regarding a LifeSite News article that reported on Pope Francis concelebrating mass with a 93 year-old dissident, gay rights activist priest, and the Pope’s kissing that priest’s hands. Lifesite accurately depicted the problematic issues surrounding the ancient cleric:

Fr. (Don) Michele de Paolis concelebrated Mass with Pope Francis at the Domus Santa Martha and then presented the pontiff with gifts of a wooden chalice and paten and a copy of his most recent book, “Dear Don Michele – questions to an inconvenient priest”.

In a previous book, Don Michele wrote, “homosexual love is a gift from (God) no less than heterosexual.” He also disparaged the idea of homosexual couples not having sex.

Francis closed the meeting by kissing the priest’s hand, a gesture that the far-left newspaper L’immediato called one “revealing the humility of a great man to another of the same stature.” De Paolis described the unusual papal gesture himself in a post to his Facebook page, saying that he asked Francis for an audience with the priest’s other organization, the Community of Emmaus: “Is that possible?”

He said that the pope replied, “Anything is possible. Talk to Cardinal Maradiaga and he shall prepare everything.”

“And then (unbelievably) he kissed my hand! I hugged him and wept,” de Paolis concluded.

The gesture has made something of a sensation in Italian media and ‘blogs since de Paolis is a well-known figure in Italy as a leading clerical apologist for the homosexualist ideology. He ostensibly met with Francis in his capacity as the founder of Emmaus Community in the southern Italian city of Foggia that assists the poor and those suffering from AIDS.

The article then included the following:

LifeSiteNews asked Vatican spokesman Fr. Frederico Lombardi for clarification as to the nature of the encounter but received no reply by press time.

On FB, I linked the Lifesite article with the following criticism from me:

Some other award winning and sensational headlines from years gone by:

Jesus Dines with Prostitutes

Galilean Rabbi Allows Woman with 12-year Hemorrhage to Touch Him.

Jesus at it Again, This Time Dines with Tax Collector.

Nazorean has Feet Washed by Whore’s Tears, Dried by Her Hair

Whore-Loving Rabbi Demands Jews Eat His Flesh, Drink His Blood as Admission Price for Heaven.

Dregs of Society will Inherit Heaven, When Will He End the Madness?

Rabbi Claims to be Doctor for the Sick, Ends Stoning of Adulteress. Is He Encouraging Sin?

Rabbi has it Backward. Conversion FIRST, Then Acceptance.

Sorry, but I’m beginning to see a heartlessness and self-righteousness in conservative and orthodox circles that is unnerving. As Father Groeschel once told me, “The sins against sex are the most humiliating, but the sins against charity are the most damning.”

This sparked something of an uproar, so much so that Lifesite printed a clarification of their position, and one of the editors called and had an extensive conversation with me. (I’ve been a contributing blogger for a few years). The conversation was frank, civilized, and gentlemanly. While it did much to clear the air, there is a larger, lingering issue that needs to be addressed by pro-life and orthodox Catholics; A question, really.

Who do we say Francis is?

Since his election, Francis has brought a style that has provided ample grist for the pro-life mill. Many have feared, openly and scandalously, that he is about to break with established church teaching on moral norms. And at every turn they have been proven wrong. He famously stated that one need not discuss the issues of abortion and homosexuality all the time, which sent most pro-life leaders into the stratosphere.

And for good cause.

Increasingly, we see the marriage between the gay rights movement and the culture of death through their support of in vitro fertilization and related technologies, the support for abortion, gay marriage, and the general support of left-leaning politicians. Western civilization’s implosion is accelerating and being catalyzed by these very issues.

Or is it?

Perhaps Francis sees these issues not as cause, but as effect. Perhaps Francis sees the breakdown as beginning in other areas and these latter issues are the final manifestation of a spiritual rot that has been progressing below the surface for quite some time. How can one know, or be sure? Is Francis a closet heretic and apostate, as some fear, or maverick pastor who is resorting to the audacious in order to snap people out of their torpor? How can one know?

In pursuit of this answer, and also in attending to several family matters (mostly good stuff), I have taken a self-imposed break from blogging, from the need to report, to comment, to publish with great regularity. The sabbatical has been both productive and refreshing. It has also confirmed for me some concerns regarding Francis. So, here it is.

I said this a year ago, and it is as true now, as it was then:

He. Is. Peter.

That’s who I say Francis is. He is the Vicar of Christ on Earth, and that dread reality ought to make people pause before they publish news articles that call his character, morality, and motives into question. The thought that a deadline for publication should trump waiting for a reply from the Vatican spokesman where the reputation of the pope hangs in the balance suggests that perhaps we have crossed a line over here in the right wing. It suggests that we have established ourselves as a shadow College of Cardinals, advising our pope in print and tearing into him when he dares to march to his own drum.

If our Jesuit, hand-kissing, iconoclastic pope has aroused our ire, perhaps it is because he is shattering our icons of ourselves. Perhaps this pope sees that abortion and homosexuality are rooted in other serious ills that need also to be addressed, and that attacking root causes clears up a great deal of downstream issues like homosexuality and abortion.

Perhaps Jorge Bergolio brings with him to the Chair of Peter a perspective that we in the Northern Hemisphere simply do not grasp. The very people whom he grew up with, cherished and valued, ministered to in their poverty are largely our illegal aliens in the United States- a people resented here, even despised. So, when Bergolio/Francis speaks of the need to make these people a priority, and not speak all the time of abortion and homosexuality, he speaks from a perspective that runs up hard against the conservative, Republican/ Tea Party politics that animate so many of us in the pro-life movement and the orthodox wing of the church. It is difficult to separate the integration of our politics and faith, especially when the two dovetail so nicely on the life issues.

Still, Francis is calling us to espouse some of that espoused by our political opponents here in North America, and that means breaking the mold and entering the dangerous waters of consensus politics, of becoming odd bedfellows with the political lepers of the left.

Francis sees where the disintegration, the alienation takes place. It’s in the heart. That is most evident in those who castigated him for concelebrating with a brother priest who was never disciplined by Popes John Paul II or Benedict, and neither by Cardinals Ratzinger or Burke when they headed the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. I suspect that all of these very “imprudent” actions on Francis’ part are reaching many homosexuals and lesbians at the core of their woundedness, and suggesting to them that they are not the lepers in the church that secular media have suggested that they are. What comes of this revolutionary pastoral approach remains to be seen.

Until then, Francis IS Peter. His choice was inspired by the Holy Spirit, and he is in need of our prayers. Moreso, we need to pray for ourselves, for the gifts of wisdom and courage, vision and strength, and above all, humility.

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Through the years I have been asked to review a good many books on topics from microbiology, to evolution, biomedical ethics, spirituality, and even the life of Cardinal Newman. It’s always a privilege to do so, to be a part of the birthing of an author’s dream, to help bring forward an idea, a perspective, or message that will have great consequence in the lives of readers. Earlier this year I was asked to do just that for a series of children’s books released a week ago by Feiwel and Friends, an imprint of Macmillan Publishing, a series that every parent of a young child can and should support. What was different was that I was approached directly by the author, Mike Lane, and the author is my friend.

This is a story that just doesn’t happen to new authors, and has happened to the most deserving married couple I’ve ever known. It involves a first-time author, whose work is just the sort that we parents dream of our children reading, that has been picked up by Scholastic Books, and recommended by the Junior Library Guild months before its release date.

Pure magic.

I met Mike Lane in college when he began dating my friend, Donna, who has always been to me the personification of goodness itself. Having met a man of equal character, Donna and Mike were married before long and settled into building a life together. As I came to know Mike, I learned that he had a passion for doing magic. He would perform for anyone, anytime, anywhere. As the years rolled by, Mike’s passion grew into a show that he would do for children’s parties, and finally, sell-out dinner theater. People cannot get enough of “Magician Mike Lane.”

It’s good, clean fun. Nothing dark, or brooding, or frightening, or edgy. It’s old school, “How’d he do that?” kind of magic. It starts with fun and leaves you wanting more by the time it’s over. Adults are returned to the innocence of childhood as the cynical accretions of time are stripped away, and the primordial experience of wonder grabs hold once again. There’s good reason why people cannot get enough of Mike’s magic.

One day, a few years ago, Mike shared with me a longstanding dream that had been brewing beneath the surface, and was now bubbling over with the irresistibility of an idea that could no longer be ignored. Mike had a desire to write a children’s book, and he shared the storyline with me. As he spoke, he actually had several really good ideas, all involving children as characters, friendship, magic, and the central theme of believing in oneself. Through a fortuitous series of events, Mike had the opportunity to pitch his ideas at Feiwel and Friends after several rejections from other publishers (“Great stuff, but nobody knows you…”).

This time, things would be different. Gathered in that room was a team of sharp publishers who knew the goodness of the story, and more importantly, saw the goodness of the man before them. As he performed his magic for them, and spoke of his idea, a series of books was born. They tell the story of Mike Weiss, a fidgety fourth-grader who can’t seem to get it together. (It bore an uncanny resemblance to myself in school.) From the opening of book one of The Magic Shop, The Vanishing Coin:

“Nine-year-old Mike Weiss slumped in a hard chair outside the principal’s office, Fourth grade was supposed to be a fresh start, but he was right back where he always was. Every year since kindergarten, at least once a week. In trouble.

“He wasn’t a bad kid. He wasn’t mean. He didn’t hurt anyone. He just couldn’t sit still. Sometimes he did things without meaning to…”

The story tells of a supportive (and not punitive) teacher and principal, kindly secretary in the principal’s office, loving parents, and Mike’s new friend, Nora, who accepts him as he is and complements his personality. It involves a bully, Mike’s nemesis, and tells of how Mike and Nora discover a magic shop, whose keeper takes Mike under his wing and begins a mentoring relationship. Throughout, the reader is entertained by Mike’s ups and downs in school, cheers him on as he finally finds mastery in something nobody else can do, bedeviling his nemesis by showing strength and proficiency in an area where the bully cannot top him, and soars to new heights with Nora as the wind beneath his wings. The theme throughout is the simple, powerful admonition: Believe!

Throughout the well-illustrated book the readers are given a peek into The Book of Secrets, as they are shown several of the magic tricks performed by Mike Weiss. That’s part of the genius in this series. By teaching the protagonist’s tricks, which are easily mastered, the reader joins the author and Mike Weiss in the shared experience of bringing wonder to family and friends. And that’s just the first book in a series that develops the story and teaches new magic, new life lessons.

To know Mike Lane is to know the secret of what is rapidly developing into a runaway success. He is a profoundly good, loving, and decent husband and father, with a wife who is his equal in every way. The story of the protagonist is really Mike Lane’s. The goodness, fidelity, encouragement, and gentle wisdom of Nora is Mike’s wife, Donna. The author and his work are one.

At the rollout in Barnes and Noble on Staten Island three weeks ago, Mike sat with co-author, Kate Egan, (A professional author and editor with monumental credentials) and signed books for 4 ½ hours, with a line stretching around the store that never abated (wait time: 1 ½ hours). It was a George Bailey moment as the community turned out in droves for our beloved, “Magician Mike Lane.” Sales approached nearly 600 books, and Mike’s signing was the second largest in the history of the store. As advance word spread to the schools and bookstores where Mike went the following week on a national tour, the stores were chagrined when they had no books for signing, as the local schools snapped them up for their children in advance of Mike’s appearances.

It’s a pleasure to take a break from the heaviness of bioethics and promote something for our children’s character formation that harkens back to the goodness and simplicity we parents and grandparents remember from our own childhoods.

It’s a comfort to know that there are publishers who see the goodness for which we all clamor and are proud to present it.

It’s refreshing to see a team that approaches children with an appeal to all that is good, and wholesome, and decent in human character and doesn’t adulterate it with an edgy agenda.

Most of all, it has been my blessing to know since college the love and friendship of Mike and Donna, to see them raise their children up to their high standard of goodness and kindness, and to see this book series open a window for countless children to share in the fruits of Mike and Donna’s wisdom and goodness. A father’s simple, yet powerful admonition to a generation of children in a culture often hostile to them:

Believe!

The books are available here.

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Every now and then the biomedical community and the legal system are presented with the opportunity to rediscover our collective humanity through the lens of animal rights and animal cruelty. More often than not that lens has insufficient power to correct their distorted perception of human dignity. Having just passed the ninth anniversary of Terri Schiavo’s death by starvation and dehydration, word comes today of the starvation and dehydration death of Roxy the dog, a boxer in England, who died at the hands of his solicitor-in-training owner, Katy Gammon.

Ms. Gammon has been in the employ of a law firm specializing in……

Medical Negligence.

It seems that Ms. Gammon retained Roxy who originally belonged to a boyfriend after the relationship ended. The dog was kept locked in the kitchen because it wasn’t housebroken. All was well until Gammon began staying with her mother a few blocks away and stopped coming to feed the dog after she injured her knee. A window into the collective soul from MailOnline:

Bristol Magistrates’ Court had previously heard that Gammon had confined the dog by tying a rope to the kitchen door handle and fixing it to a hook in the hall.

Roxy had frantically clawed at the door, leaving fragments on the floor, as she tried to escape before her death, which would have taken around six days…

Asked if she had deliberately locked her in the kitchen and left her to die, Gammon replied: ‘Yes, basically.’

The article continues with a description of what Roxy’s death was probably like. At this juncture it is worth noting that humans and dogs have very similar anatomy and physiology, and that dog experimentation has often been the last step before human trials of new medicines and medical treatments, because of our shared similarities. More from the article:

A vet said the pet would have taken up to six days to die gradually and painfully, becoming blind and falling into a coma before passing away…

‘A number of items had desperately been pulled out of cupboards. We believe this was a desperate attempt at searching for food or water.

‘Roxy suffered a slow, painful death which could have been prevented.’

And so it goes with human beings who are deprived of food and hydration as a means of hastening death. It is a slow and agonizing demise, as Roxy’s story indicates. Often the patient is unresponsive, but as the parent of any teenager knows, lack of responsiveness does not indicate a lack of sensory reception, or internal processing. Terri Schiavo was perhaps the most publicized case of the Roxys of our species.

However, shared physiology is where our paths diverge. Lower animals now possess greater dignity (from the Latin, meaning “standing”) in western jurisprudence than human beings. Consider the words of the sentencing magistrate as Gammon received 18 weeks in jail, and a lifetime ban on owning pets, for her crime:

Sentencing, magistrate Rod Mayall said: ‘You have shown limited remorse. You failed to behave as any normal person would have. This is the most serious case of animal cruelty encountered in these courts.’

And here is where the magistrate misses the mark by a mile. Humans are also animals. Additionally, we are a higher order animal, capable of at least as much pain (physical state) as a dog, and perhaps even more suffering (a psychological state). If this is the worst case of animal cruelty he has seen before the court, then it is because humans have lost their standing in the very courts they have created. Gammon has been sentenced to jail and a lifetime ban from owning pets so that she may never again be in a position to practice such barbarism. That’s a good thing.

However human beings who, on a daily basis, pull members of their own species apart, limb-by-limb, in the womb, and who similarly starve and dehydrate members of our own species to death do so with government-issued licenses and are considered practitioners in good standing.

The outrage in all of this isn’t that Gammon was punished for her crime against Roxy, it’s that the deaths of the Terri Schiavo’s among us aren’t considered criminal at all. It is that our legislators and judges do not, “behave as any normal person would have,” protecting humans with the same ferocity as they would if the subject in consideration were a dog.

The greatest tragedy of all is that humans have a long way to go before we enjoy equal dignity, equal standing with our pets in a court of law.

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