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Archive for September, 2013

Conscientiously Objecting to Obamacare

lipstickpig

In the movie Becket, King Henry II of England is trying to raise money for a war with the French and imposes a tax on the Church. After strenuous objections by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the other bishops, Henry’s new Chancellor of England, Thomas Becket, barks that it is pointless to continue the discussion. Then, with sweetly sinister cordiality he states,

“The law has given us the means of coercion, we will use it.”

So it is with the pending enrollment in Obamacare. Those who refuse to be enrolled will eventually be fined by the IRS with a fine that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled is not a fine, but a tax. The mgovernment has given itself the means of coercion, and it will use it.

Many pro-lifers believe that they cannot in good conscience pay for healthcare that pays for abortion. Many will declare their refusal to cooperate, no matter what.

Civil disobedience.

While that sounds good, and is most noble, there are hard truths to consider for any contemplating such an action. First, there is the issue of a third of a billion federal dollars annually given to America’s largest abortion provider, Planned Parenthood. We already fund abortion through this malignant giant.

Then there are all of the states that use federal and state tax revenues to fund abortion through Medicaid. In New York State, more than 40,000 Medicaid-funded abortions are performed annually.

School districts all across the country partner with Planned Parenthood, using tax revenues and school facilities to promote the organization and its agenda.

The list goes on and on, but suffice it to say that Obamacare is not the first large-scale government funding or promotion of abortion. So what is to be the point of civil disobedience here, especially when the government will simply garnish one’s salary through the same confiscatory practice that is used to collect taxes in arrears?

Focussing on the abortion dimension may be the least of all pro-life considerations in this debate, as it ignores the much larger issue of rationing healthcare and the subsequent denial of services to desperately ill people. That is an issue that so very many pro-lifers refuse to engage, and in so doing they alienate large constituencies with whom we could build effective coalitions. It is the trap of being more anti-abortion than being wholistically pro-life.

So what is to be gained by declaring one’s disobedience to a law that gives the government the power to simply garnish wages? Apart from a moral victory, I suspect not much. However, there a plenty of ambivalent, and outright pro-choice folk who stand to suffer greatly under Obamacare as premiums skyrocket to over $20,000 in many markets, who will be denied lifesaving therapies as has been the case for years in Oregon.

It seems that the only way to defeat Obamacare is to rise up at the polls. We’ll get there one way or the other. When we do, it will be less through statements of noncompliance that fail to stop the confiscatory power of the government and more through the suffering of people broken financially by Obamacare’s obscene costs, and emotionally by its heartless parsimony.

Until then the law has given Obama the means of coercion, and he will use it.

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The Problem with Pope Francis

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The people’s pope has been making waves ever since he rode back to his hotel on the bus and tried to pay his bill. False modesty? A swipe at those who came before him in office? Refreshing humility? Inverted pride? There have certainly been no shortage of critics, nor fawning, uber-liberal commenters who have weighed in on the new pontiff.

Are we seeing a shift in teaching, or perhaps a different set of priorities from below the equator? Watching Francis, it has become clear that the Jesuit sitting on the Chair of Peter has jolted the exposed fault lines in the post-Vatican II church. Specifically, by claiming that we don’t need to discuss the issues of sex, abortion, and homosexuality all the time, the pope has carved out awareness of other equally pressing issues, such as the grinding poverty that characterizes life below the equator that affects the world from whence he comes.

In the process, he has accentuated the differences between orthodox Catholics and the liberal/anarchic wing of the church above the equator. The liberal/anarchic wing adopted the issues surrounding global poverty, hunger, homelessness, etc. Not surprisingly, these are the issues championed by the socialist left, which also promotes radical feminism, abortion on demand, gay marriage, and sexual licentiousness: issues near and dear to left-leaning Catholics.

The orthodox tend toward traditional families, pro-life ethics, and a conservative political agenda. If there is a problem with the orthodox, it is that we have allowed concern for the poor to become “their” issue, and not “ours”. The criteria that will be used in our judgement were outlined by Jesus in Matthew 25. The corporal works of mercy are not options.

The truth is that our Catholicism is somewhat bifurcated in the Northern Hemisphere. Essential elements and obligations of the faith have been politicized.

While this bifurcation is very real, the issues of sex, family, marriage, and abortion have a far greater catalytic power at tearing down Weatern Civilization than the issue of grinding poverty, which was omnipresent throughout Western Civilization’s rise. It’s difficult to adress the issues of poverty in a culture where raging hedonism is the new civic virtue.

If there was one nuanced perspective missing in the Pope’s highly nuanced and controversial interview, it is that.

So, when Francis demonstrates a humility whereby he eschews the trappings of office, when he says that we need to expand our focus, he offers us the opportunity to reflect beyond the very real issues that we champion within orthodoxy here in the north. He also offers us the opportunity to reclaim something that has been lost along the way.

However, when we are addicted to tearing our brothers and sisters apart in the womb, using our brothers and sisters as objects for pleasure, and spitting on the natural order created by God, it’s a tough sell to get people behind an authentic vision of being our brother’s keeper.

Perhaps by speaking from within the issues coopted as issues by the left, maybe… just maybe… this pope may be able to break through. Let’s hope so, and let’s lift Francis up in prayer as he tries.

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Having spent yesterday reading the secular news accounts of Pope Francis’ recent comments about abortion and homosexuality, and having also read reports from the uber-right, it is distressing to see that people either can’t read or can’t think. This Pope is being undermined left and right.

Literally.

For the rest of us, we can read the Holy Father’s interview here.

According to the illiterati, the Holy Father doesn’t think abortion and homosexuality are worthy of much time and attention, and besides, as he has already said, who is he to judge? For the left, this distortion serves the purpose of eliminating the only significant barrier to the homosexualist and abortion agendas: the Roman Catholic Church. For those to the right of Mussolini, it serves to discredit “the Jesuit”.

In context, here are the Pope’s remarks, begining with the interviewr’s question which frames the response:

I mention to Pope Francis that there are Christians who live in situations that are irregular for the church or in complex situations that represent open wounds. I mention the divorced and remarried, same-sex couples and other difficult situations. What kind of pastoral work can we do in these cases? What kinds of tools can we use?

“We need to proclaim the Gospel on every street corner,” the pope says, “preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing, even with our preaching, every kind of disease and wound. In Buenos Aires I used to receive letters from homosexual persons who are ‘socially wounded’ because they tell me that they feel like the church has always condemned them. But the church does not want to do this. During the return flight from Rio de Janeiro I said that if a homosexual person is of good will and is in search of God, I am no one to judge. By saying this, I said what the catechism says. Religion has the right to express its opinion in the service of the people, but God in creation has set us free: it is not possible to interfere spiritually in the life of a person.

“A person once asked me, in a provocative manner, if I approved of homosexuality. I replied with another question: ‘Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?’ We must always consider the person. Here we enter into the mystery of the human being. In life, God accompanies persons, and we must accompany them, starting from their situation. It is necessary to accompany them with mercy. When that happens, the Holy Spirit inspires the priest to say the right thing.

“This is also the great benefit of confession as a sacrament: evaluating case by case and discerning what is the best thing to do for a person who seeks God and grace. The confessional is not a torture chamber, but the place in which the Lord’s mercy motivates us to do better. I also consider the situation of a woman with a failed marriage in her past and who also had an abortion. Then this woman remarries, and she is now happy and has five children. That abortion in her past weighs heavily on her conscience and she sincerely regrets it. She would like to move forward in her Christian life. What is the confessor to do?

“We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible. I have not spoken much about these things, and I was reprimanded for that. But when we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context. The teaching of the church, for that matter, is clear and I am a son of the church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.

 “The dogmatic and moral teachings of the church are not all equivalent. The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently. Proclamation in a missionary style focuses on the essentials, on the necessary things: this is also what fascinates and attracts more, what makes the heart burn, as it did for the disciples at Emmaus. We have to find a new balance; otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel. The proposal of the Gospel must be more simple, profound, radiant. It is from this proposition that the moral consequences then flow.

“I say this also thinking about the preaching and content of our preaching. A beautiful homily, a genuine sermon must begin with the first proclamation, with the proclamation of salvation. There is nothing more solid, deep and sure than this proclamation. Then you have to do catechesis. Then you can draw even a moral consequence. But the proclamation of the saving love of God comes before moral and religious imperatives. Today sometimes it seems that the opposite order is prevailing. The homily is the touchstone to measure the pastor’s proximity and ability to meet his people, because those who preach must recognize the heart of their community and must be able to see where the desire for God is lively and ardent. The message of the Gospel, therefore, is not to be reduced to some aspects that, although relevant, on their own do not show the heart of the message of Jesus Christ.”

Nothing in that quote contradicts the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s own document, Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons, promulgated under Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger.

The Pope is also quite correct in saying that we must first address the wounds of people before hammering away at many of the moral issues, and here is where things get thorny.

Doctrinally, dogmatically, the Pope is on solid ground, a groundwork laid by the giants who came before him, from Pius XI to Benedict XVI. He does not need to reformulate what has been articulated so clearly and beautifully. Francis has been sent to show us how to minister to a broken humanity in a way that may well be alien to those whose only approach is moralizing. It begins with the language he employs regarding accompanying the sinner along the road of his life.

That means accepting the person where they are at and then walking the road with them. It means eating and drinking with those whose behaviors are profoundly disturbing to us. Working with street kids for seven years at Covenant House in the 1980’s was a formative experience for me, especially when so many had worked in prostitution. What moved the kids the most was the fact that we were the first people, for many of them, who were nonjudgmental and simply loved them where they were at.

I get where Francis is going with the Church. If John Paul II and Benedict charted the course, Francis is our guide.

Encyclicals are neat, crisp, and clean. Employing their contents with love and not bludgeoning people into submission with them will be the hallmark of this papacy. It is work fraught with the perils of which the Pope speaks when he talks of confessors being too lax or too rigid.

The same goes for the laity.

To those on the right who fear that the situational ethics that tore the Church apart Post-Vtican II has now made its way to the chair of Peter, they need to breathe deeply and accept authentic pastoral direction from the chief shepherd. After all, the Pope is right, we can’t only and always talk of homosexuality, abortion, and contraception. We must address the woundedness that gives rise to these ills.

We in the pro-life movement have prayed for a cure at the root of it all.

Will we now stop our ears and shout down the answer to those prayers?

Will we?

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In her hit piece against the Pro-Life Movement Ms. Elizabeth Jahr, a senior at Marymount University in Arlington, Va., pens a missive about the perceived colossal waste of money spent by pro-lifers in our annual March on Washington, D.C. Read her article here. My response to Ms. Jahr…

Dear Ms. Jahr,

First, allow me to congratulate you on having had an article accepted for publication in a major and widely respected outlet such as the Christian Science Monitor. Such publication is always an immense source of pride and validation when one is still a student, so heartfelt congratulations!

In your article you stake out some extremely caustic assertions regarding the wisdom and prudential judgement, efficacy and vision of the leadership and membership of the Pro-Life Movement. Inasmuch as you didn’t sugarcoat your critique of us, I will pay you the sincere compliment of addressing you less as a student, and more as a peer. It would do neither the pro-life cause, nor you any justice were I to approach your assertions with kid gloves. So here goes.

On the whole, as arguments go yours was rather hackneyed. It resembeled in tone and substance the assertions that all the money spent on the U.S. space programs could have been better spent on the poor. Of course, such arguments never take into consideration all of the many derivative benefits that satellite technology has brought to developing nations, but I digress.

Your claims that the money spent on travel to the Annual March on Washington could be better spent by serving the actual needs of women in crisis pregnancies is so far beyond the pale that you should blush for having said so. Certainly in your scholarly research for the article you looked at the 3,000+ pregnancy centers in this nation whose daily work includes getting housing, prenatal care, delivery services, food, clothing, diapers, supplies, employment, etc for women in crisis pregnancies.

In the ’80’s I worked for five years with homeless teen mothers at Covenant House in Times Square, NY doing just that. It was there that I met my friend, Chris Bell, who was so appalled that most girls in crisis pregnancies gave their babies up for adoption (for want of life skills training and the resources to keep their children) that he began Good Counsel Homes. At Good Counsel Homes, women may stay for the duration of their pregnancy, and for a year afterward. During that time they take daily life skills training in money management, nutrition, cooking, and every aspect of managing a home, as well as parenting classes and finishing a GED or Community College.

After their stay at Good Counsel, they enter into the Exodus program where their mentor visits their home twice monthly for two years to assure that their growth is secure. Chris runs five of close to five hundred such homes in the U.S. It costs some $600,000 annually per house. Were you aware of the scope of maternity homes and pregnancy centers? In your political science studies, had you been made aware of the efforts afoot in New York City to shut down the pregnancy centers here, and how their fate hangs in the balance in the Court of Appeals? It takes money to fight those battles.

It takes money to keep the maternity homes and pregnancy centers open. Millions and millions of dollars are needed.

The March each year continues to grow, and with that growth comes the great entusiasm, the great fervor that drives the raising of far more money than is spent on the March. Beyond that utilitarian analysis there is something more fundamental that you missed in your hit piece.

Published so close to the fiftieth anniversary of Martin Luther King’s March on Washington and “I have a Dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial, your article misses the fact that sometimes it just doesn’t matter the cost of calling attention to fundamental injustice and inhumanity. There have been some 57 million babies slaughtered in my lifetime in this country. You would have 600,000 marchers stay home? Really?

You also fail as a political scientist to acknowledge the amount of U.S. taxpayer dollars that already go to supporting women, children and families. Allow me, then, to link to some government data that dwarfs the few million pro-life dollars you place such a premium on.

The tens of millions of dollars donated to pro-life activities is given over and above the trillions of dollars spent annually by the government with the confiscatory taxes taken from pro-lifers and pro-aborts alike.

The first data table comes from the U.S. Department of Agricultire. Expenditures are in $Millions. So take the totals and multiply by $ 1,000,000. I’ll summarize Fiscal Year 2012 here.

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program $78.445 Billion

National School Lunch Program $11.578 Billion

School Breakfast Program $3.277 Billion

Special Milk Program $12 Million

Child/Adult Care Food Program $2.855 Billion

Summer Food Service Program $398 Million

Child Nutrition State Administration $203 Million

WIC (Women Infants and Children Supplemental Food) $6.799 Billion

Commodity Supplemental Food $209 Million

Food Distribution on Indian Reservations $97 Million

TEFAP (Emergency Food Assistance) $444 Million

Grand Total: $104.3 BILLION

Then, according to USDA, we spent $78.445 Billion on Food Stamps in 2012.

If that seems like impressive numbers, your weak and anemic argument collapses under the weight of the following numbers whose source is linked here. Based on Fiscal Year 2012, the U.S. Government (not including state and local expenditures) is spending the following:

Welfare $405 Billion (Including $54 Billion for housing and $107 Billion for families and children).

Education $118 Billion

Healthcare $920 Billion

The pregnancy centers never, EVER, turn a woman away and use their funding to help plug women in crisis into these government sources of assistance. So your argument that somehow babies are not being saved for want of resources falls flat. In truth, Planned Parenthhod receives over a third of a billion dollars annually from the Federal Government to keep them afloat. Would that Planned Parenthood did the counseling with that money that pregnancy centers do daily.

No, Ms. Jahr. the issue is not whether we all need to stay home and shut up in January. The issue is not that women are being turned away at pregnancy centers for want of funding. The issue is that our marching has not yet effected the change in law that King’s marching accomplished. But then, it took hundreds of years to end slavery, and over 80 more to end segregation. At age 40, the pro-life movement is only in its adolescence.

The movement is much larger than you might know, very diverse, and quite sophisticated. All on just tens of millions of dollars annually. More marchers attract even more marchers and more money for these groups. I’d be happy to introduce you to several leaders at the national level if you’re truly interested in learning more.

There is no more consequential issue or movement in our time, and your article has placed you on the wrong side of history. We already spend more than enough in tax money to aid women in crisis. We need more centers to reach more women, and fewer abortion clinics to prey on them.

I’m looking forward to your critique of Planned Parenthood and how they spend a billion dollars annually with regard to women in crisis. With so much more money in play, your analysis and proposals should be rather lengthy.

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