Thursday, July 30, 2009

CARDINAL RIGALI URGES HOUSE COMMITTEE TO SUPPORT PRO-LIFE AMENDMENTS TO HEALTH CARE REFORM BILL

Just released from the USCCB. Meanwhile, Catholics United is predictably urging prolife activists to shut up about abortion in the health bill. Tell it to the Cardinal. Here he is:

July 29, 2009

TO: Members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee

Dear Representative:

As you consider the “America’s Affordable Health Choices Act” (H.R. 3200), I urge you to consider the overall priorities and concerns presented by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Bishop William Murphy’s July 17 letter to all members of Congress (www.usccb.org/sdwp/national/2009-07-17-murphy-letter-congress.pdf).

The bishops’ conference views health care as a basic right belonging to all human beings, from conception to natural death. We therefore have long supported universal health care reform that respects human life and dignity, provides access for all with a special concern for immigrants and the poor, preserves pluralism with respect for rights of conscience, and restrains costs while sharing them equitably.

In this particular letter I am writing specifically about our fundamental requirement that health care legislation respect human life and rights of conscience. Much-needed reform must not become a vehicle for promoting an “abortion rights” agenda or reversing longstanding current policies against federal abortion mandates and funding. In this sense we urge you to make this legislation “abortion neutral” by preserving longstanding federal policies that prevent government promotion of abortion and respect conscience rights.

In this regard several features of H.R. 3200, as introduced on July 14, need to be
addressed:

1. The legislation delegates to the Secretary of Health and Human Services the power to make abortion a basic or essential benefit in all health plans, or in the “public plan” created by the legislation. This would be a radical change: Federal law has long excluded most abortions from federal employees’ health benefits plans and places no requirement on private plans, most of which also decline to cover elective abortions.

2. Because some federal funds are authorized and appropriated by this legislation
without passing through the Labor/HHS appropriations bill, they are not covered by the Hyde amendment and other provisions that have prevented direct federal funding of abortion for over three decades. The legislation needs its own provision against abortion funding to ensure consistency with the policy in all other federal health programs.

3. Provisions such as those requiring timely access to all benefits covered by qualified health plans could be used by courts to override and invalidate state laws regulating abortion, such as laws to ensure women’s safety and informed consent and to promote parental involvement when minors consider abortion. These laws are modest, widely supported, and constitutionally sound, but they could fall before a new federal mandate to maximize “access” to abortion. It should be made clear in the legislation that such laws will not be preempted.

4. Several federal laws have long protected the conscience rights of health care providers. These laws prevent governmental bodies from discriminating against individual and institutional health care providers that decline involvement in abortion, and respect the moral and religious convictions of health professionals on abortion and other procedures in programs funded under the Public Health Service Act and other federal laws (see www.usccb.org/prolife/issues/abortion/crmay08.pdf). President Obama recently stated that he accepts these current laws and will do nothing to weaken them. Congress should make the same pledge, by ensuring that this legislation will maintain protection for conscience rights.

As long-time supporters of genuine health care reform, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is working to ensure that needed health reform is not undermined by abandoning longstanding and widely supported policies against abortion funding and mandates and in favor of conscience protection.

During committee consideration, Reps. Bart Stupak (D-MI) and Joseph Pitts (R-PA) plan to offer amendments to address these problems in H.R. 3200 as introduced. I strongly urge you to support their efforts. By your actions on these issues, you have the ability to help reform our health care system in a way that will truly serve the poor and needy and uphold the dignity of all.

Sincerely,


Cardinal Justin Rigali
Archbishop of Philadelphia
Chairman
USCCB Committee on Pro-Life Activities

Scarce till Monday

Visiting family in sweltering Seattle.

Thu
Mostly Sunny
99°F

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

1 Quadriplegic = Half a Human Life, 1 Teen = Fourteen 85 Year Olds

That is the assumption behind a benchmark some, including Peter Singer, are urging for inclusion in any overhaul of the U.S. health system. It's called QALY or Quality of Life Years and the U.S. government has already endorsed it by including substantial funds for research on the concept in the "stimulus" bill. Here's how Peter Singer explained it in the New York Times:
As a first take, we might say that the good achieved by health care is the number of lives saved. But that is too crude. The death of a teenager is a greater tragedy than the death of an 85-year-old, and this should be reflected in our priorities. We can accommodate that difference by calculating the number of life-years saved, rather than simply the number of lives saved. If a teenager can be expected to live another 70 years, saving her life counts as a gain of 70 life-years, whereas if a person of 85 can be expected to live another 5 years, then saving the 85-year-old will count as a gain of only 5 life-years. That suggests that saving one teenager is equivalent to saving 14 85-year-olds.

The principle for Singer applies not only to age, but disability as well:
One common method is to describe medical conditions to people — let’s say being a quadriplegic — and tell them that they can choose between 10 years in that condition or some smaller number of years without it. If most would prefer, say, 10 years as a quadriplegic to 4 years of nondisabled life, but would choose 6 years of nondisabled life over 10 with quadriplegia, but have difficulty deciding between 5 years of nondisabled life or 10 years with quadriplegia, then they are, in effect, assessing life with quadriplegia as half as good as nondisabled life. (These are hypothetical figures, chosen to keep the math simple, and not based on any actual surveys.) If that judgment represents a rough average across the population, we might conclude that restoring to nondisabled life two people who would otherwise be quadriplegics is equivalent in value to saving the life of one person, provided the life expectancies of all involved are similar. . .

. . .Some will object that this discriminates against people with disabilities. If we return to the hypothetical assumption that a year with quadriplegia is valued at only half as much as a year without it, then a treatment that extends the lives of people without disabilities will be seen as providing twice the value of one that extends, for a similar period, the lives of quadriplegics.

In its most recent issue, OSV provides a rebuttal to this kind of thinking from my old Philosophy Prof. and friend, Dr. Ray Dennehy of the University of San Francisco. I'll give you the bottom line, but you should read the whole thing:
The kind of contrast that Singer draws between lives with disabilities and lives without them collides with the doctrine of natural rights that forms the bedrock of our democracy. The basis of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is human nature, and a disabled person has not lost that nature. To borrow from the philosopher, Yves R. Simon, it is just as much an act of murder to kill a sickly man as a healthy one; it is just as much an act of murder to kill a colored man as a white man; it is just as much an act of murder to kill a poor man as a rich man; it is just as much an act of murder to kill a child in its mother's womb as a human adult.

The value of the human person and his right to life do not depend on features that make men different, but rather on the essential features of personhood that are common to all human beings.
Read on. There's a lot of valuable stuff here. The possibility of such proposals entering the health care overhaul is another good reason for congressmen to actually read and deliberate bills before them.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Obama's Women Religious Urge Congress to Ignore 'Insignificant Details' - Pass Health Bill Now

An Interfaith group called 'We Believe Together - Health Care For All' held a press conference today at the Capitol demanding Congress pass a health care bill NOW. Sister of Social Service Simone Campbell was among them. This from Catholic News Service's report on the conference:
Fear of change, Sister Simone said, is what is holding back members of Congress now. Instead of making a decision many representatives are getting confused by insignificant details, she said.

"Too often in D.C. we can get caught in the details and in the argument," she said.

Anybody with a pulse knows what those "insignificant details" are. The U.S. Bishops have addressed them. Prolife groups have addressed them. Catholic hospitals and health professionals have addressed them. Even 19 Democratic Congressmen have addressed them pointedly to Speaker Pelosi. And Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI) has reported that the actual number of Democratic Congressmen who are "holding back" until "insignificant details" are resolved may be 39 or more - enough to kill the bill in the House.

But Sister Simone is the President of 'NETWORK - A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby'. Since its founding 1971 by 47 Catholic sisters, NETWORK has been faithfully avoiding "insignificant details".

According to NETWORK's website those 47 original sisters met to "explore how women religious might speak out as one voice to our federal government on behalf of 'justice for all,'" - except apparently justice for "insignificant details". Since their founding by those 47 women religious, NETWORK, now a much larger, powerful lobby, has managed to completely ignore justice for 47,000,000 "insignificant details".

It's not that NETWORK doesn't care about details. In fact, Network has 17 questions (some multi-part) that voters should be concerned about in health care reform. But not a single word about "insignificant details". Here's a couple of graphical clues to help you understand what's going on.


Here's the cover of NETWORK's latest newsletter.


www.networklobby.org-connection-Connection09JanFeb

And here's an "insignificant detail" at five months gestation.

'Away We Go' - Review by Santiago Ramos

This is a new feature for our blog and newspaper. Santiago Ramos is a graduate of Rockhurst University in Kansas City and has written for First Things (online), Commonweal, The Pitch, Traces, Image Journal and various blogs. He will begin studies toward a Ph.D. in Philosophy at Boston College this Fall. We're very fortunate that he'll also be reviewing books and movies for The Catholic Key Blog and newspaper:


Away We Go
Focus Features
Dir. Sam Mendes, Scr. Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida

Reviewed by Santiago Ramos

“Why don’t you settle down already?” is not a new question, one that bears different meanings (Why don’t you assume your responsibilities already? Why don’t you get married already?), and always annoys. For a twentysomething, the question can come like a nudge from a rhinoceros: a gentle prod, but with a sharp, bony horn. Within each generation there are members of it who delay full entry into adulthood, sometimes out of fear, sometimes out of a desire to explore, and sometimes…—but it is not for a reviewer to exhaust all the possibilities. Let the sociologists try to do so. David Brooks, for example. In a column in the New York Times from 2007, he gave a name to this generational wandering, “The Odyssey Years,” while noting that the trend is becoming the norm rather than the exception within the post-Baby Boom generations. “During this decade,” Brooks writes, “20-somethings go to school and take breaks from school. They live with friends and they live at home. They fall in and out of love. They try one career and then try another.”

Away We Go, directed by Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Revolutionary Road) and written by the married duo of Dave Eggers (author of the memoir A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, and editor of the literary magazine McSweeney’s) and Vendela Vida (editor McSweeney’s companion, the journal, The Believer), is an apology for the Odyssey Years and for the Gen X-ers who are living them. Like a sci-fi flick that requires suspension of disbelief, this is a film that asks for the viewer’s sympathy with its characters, at least for its duration, so that the apologia can be fully developed—here, empathy only comes with sympathy. The artistic success of Away We Go lies, perhaps, in the number of people who retain their sympathy after the credits begin to roll. (My sympathy was retained, but, then again, I am a younger member of the cohort that the movie defends.)

It all starts with a baby. Burt Farlander (The Office’s John Krasinski) and Verona De Tessant (Saturday Night Live’s Maya Rudolph) are 33 and 34, respectively, and committed but unmarried. Burt is an insurance representative, working exclusively via cell phone, and Verona’s career is equally portable—she designs images for anatomy texts. The couple live frugally, but happily. In the first scene of the film, Burt and Verona realize that the latter is pregnant, but the drama truly begins later, once the couple learns that Burt’s parents are moving abroad and will not be around to help with the baby (Verona’s parents are deceased). Burt and Verona had expected to “lean pretty hard” on Burt’s parents, but they have other plans. Burt’s parents are a baby boomer couple, bourgeois bohemian (to use another Brooksian phrase) and they decide, quite blithely, to move to Antwerp, Belgium. Verona thinks this is selfish, but at least it forces the couple to grow up, without supports.

But no one can really live without supports. Thus the couple are thrust on a journey to find a new home and new friends, and they go to Phoenix, Tucson, Madison, Montreal and Miami to find one. That their journey is a search is established in the short scene in which they decide to leave their current home:
“We don’t have this basic stuff figured out.”

“Basic like what?”

“Basic like how to live.”

The last line is spoken by Verona, willfully if a bit melodramatically. The question is sincere, though, and when we can’t answer that question, it’s reasonable to wander around. They are wanderers with portable careers and a family that isn’t bound by marriage—Verona is hesitant to accept Burt’s proposal, even though she says she will never leave him.

The question behind the couple’s journey is crucial, so the viewer remains rapt from city to city. The episode in Phoenix is one of the toughest to watch, because Allison Janney has quite a nack—and I mean this as praise—for acting like a loud, psychopathic mother with a depressed husband. The scenes in Madison center on Burt’s family friend, “LN,” a New Agey college professor portrayed brilliantly by Maggie Gyllenhaal. A set piece around the dinner table and the sanctimonious lectures that LN and her husband inflict upon Burt and Verona show just how funny the Vida/Eggers team can be. The city that Burt and Verona most prefer, at least at first, is Montreal, where they meet some friends from college who married and adopted several children. From this couple, they get the most poignant piece of child-rearing advice: “You have to be willing to make the family with whatever you have”—virtue, selflessness, better nature.

“Whatever you have” usually includes, of course, traditions and inherited wisdom, and these are things that Burt and Verona and most of the people they meet are in short supply of. But at least Burt and Verona refuse to accept the status quo: “I really hate that attitude. Everything is already broken, so let’s keep on breaking it again and again,” Verona says. Again, the beginning of their redemption lies in assuming the task of searching for answers—an adult thing to do. By the end of the film, the couple seem to discover that the answers involve, to a certain degree, a return to their own roots, but the tension in their lives is not completely calmed. Perhaps now Burt and Verona will engage in some self-examination, something they didn’t do enough of in the film. And for us, the viewers, regardless whether we still sympathize with Burt and Verona after the credits roll, their questions will continue to provoke.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Updated - 20 Awesome Prolife Democrats and 2 Tremendous Phonies

Twenty Democrats in the House of Representatives joined all but 9 Republicans last week in voting to defund Planned Parenthood in an amendment offered by Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN) to the Labor / HHS Appropriations Bill. The Amendment failed, but I'd like to share some information about these prolife Democrats, as well as some info on two betrayers who should have been among their number.

1. The 20 are largely new in Congress. Two are Freshmen. All but five were elected in the last 10 years and the vast majority are in their second or third term.

2. Except for Rep. Madeleine Bordallo from Guam, ALL of these pro-life Dems are from the Midwest or the South. (Two are from West Virginia - Not sure where that fits officially). None are from the Northeast, West or West Coast.

3. Nine of the 20 are Catholic - certainly higher than the percentage of Catholics in the House. But the flip-side is that there are 98 Catholic Democrats in the House. So 81 percent of Catholic Democrats voted to give hundreds of millions to a eugenic society that is the largest abortion provider in the U.S. Two of the 38 Catholic Republicans in the House did as well.

4. Fifteen of the 20 have 100 percent ratings from the National Right to Life Committee in the 111th Congress. None scores less than 66 percent.

Two Representatives not among the 20 are Reps. Tim Ryan (D-OH) and Tom Perriello (D-VA).

Ryan used to be pro-life and now has a 0 per cent score from NRLC. We've written about him before and about the disastrous patronage bill he is sponsoring for Planned Parenthood and NARAL ludicrously named the "Preventing Unintended Pregnancies, Reducing the Need for Abortion and Supporting Parents Act".

Douglas Johnson of the National Right to Life Committee wrote today of Ryan, my empases:
"First, on July 7, the House Appropriations Committee voted to repeal the longstanding ban on public funding of abortion in the District of Columbia -- and Congressman Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, who poses as a pro-life lawmaker for purposes of undercutting genuine pro-life efforts, was among those voting for government funding of elective abortion, with funds appropriated by Congress."

And the Family Research Council said of his bill, HR 3312:
The Ryan bill contains no provisions preventing recipients from promoting or referring patients for abortion. Since Planned Parenthood -- the nation's largest and most profitable abortion provider -- is funded under the Ryan measure, inevitably the group will use the funds it receives to encourage the very procedure the bill says it wants to make more rare.

Thomas Peters at American Papist today issues a call for concerted effort to defeat HR 3312. He gives much more information about the bill and provides a number of easy action items we can do to defeat the bill.

Defeating this bill is much more important than the bill itself. As Peters notes:
In the wider picture, the DeLauro-Ryan bill is a preview of coming attractions: What DeLauro-Ryan floats as legislation, should it pass, is the type of "solution" the Obama administration will offer to the problem of abortion in White House-sponsored initiatives.

In other words, Obama's long-awaited solution to the number of abortions is - not surprisingly - to further fill the coffers of the radical pro-abortion lobbyists and organizations which helped him and his associates win the White House and Congress.

President Obama's point-person on finding "common ground" to reduce the need for abortion, the former EMILY's List Board Member Melody Barnes, has already indicated she likes the bill and its approach. So now's the time for action. See AmPapist's post for simple things you can do.

A second Democrat of interest not among the 20 voting to defund Planned Parenthood is Freshman Congressman Tom Perriello (D-VA). Perriello won his seat in one of the most surprising upsets in the November election, unseating longtime Virginia Rep. Virgil Goode. Goode had served in Congress as both a Democrat and Republican for five terms easily defeating adversaries in each contest. Perriello beat him out of a sixth term by only .24 percent of votes cast.

Perriello is an excellent campaigner and organizer and was an early adopter of the attractive "common ground" rhetoric. In fact, he was a co-founder of Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good and in 2006, Catholic News Service wrote of him, my emphases:
Tom Perriello, a co-founder of Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, told CNS that efforts by the Democratic Party to reach out to Catholics, especially in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Virginia, states with close, key Senate races, seem to have succeeded.

The "life does not end at birth" campaign of 2004, organized by a coalition of Catholic groups led by Pax Christi USA, was the start of efforts aimed at persuading voters to choose candidates on a broader basis than abortion alone, Perriello said. Catholics in Alliance this year had a series of ads headlined "As simple as right and wrong," which picked up that theme and which have resonated with evangelicals and Catholics alike, he said.

Perriello is optimistic about that success meaning the end of the sense that Democratic candidates must support abortion "rights" to get anywhere within the party.

Perriello the candidate was coy about his position on abortion, but his record in Congress is unambiguous. He has earned a 0 per cent rating from National Right to Life Committee and is a co-sponsor of the Ryan-DeLauro Planned Parenthood bailout bill. In his actions, the "common ground" Catholic Democrat is indistinguishable from forthright supporters of the abortion industry.

Which is why I wanted to highlight these 20 brave Democrats whose prolife actions should be valued above the "common ground" rhetoric of others who are simply masking their pro-choice agenda.

So while you're following up on AmP's action items, take a moment to thank these brave Democrats. Several have as a result of an earlier version of this post. Why don't you?:

Bordallo, Madeleine, Guam
Boren, Dan, Oklahoma, 2nd
Bright, Bobby, Alabama, 2nd
Childers, Travis, Mississippi, 1st
Costello, Jerry, Illinois, 12th
Davis, Lincoln, Tennessee, 4th
Donnelly, Joe, Indiana, 2nd
Ellsworth, Brad, Indiana, 8th
Griffith, Parker, Alabama, 5th
Lipinski, Daniel, Illinois, 3rd
Marshall, Jim, Georgia, 8th
McIntyre, Mike, North Carolina, 7th
Melancon, Charlie, Louisiana, 3rd
Mollohan, Alan B., West Virginia, 1st
Peterson, Collin C., Minnesota, 7th
Rahall, Nick, West Virginia, 3rd
Shuler, Heath, North Carolina, 11th
Skelton, Ike, Missouri, 4th
Taylor, Gene, Mississippi, 4th
Wilson, Charles A., Ohio, 6th

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Stand in the Way of a Revolution - And Die! - Health Care Edition

On Forbes magazine's popular quotations page there was once a quote attributed, in jest I'm sure, to an anonymous French management consultant: "That may work perfectly well in practice," it said, "but it will never work in theory." (paraphrasing) U.S. health care works certainly not perfectly, but much better than it would under the revolutionary proposal being rammed through by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D - CA).

Throughout the 20th Century, the success of revolutionary proposals has been hampered by the existence of inconvenient classes of persons. In the Russian Communist Revolution, Ukrainian "kulaks" stood in the way of a glorious modern Moscow. "Fetuses" stood in the way of a Sexual Revolution attempting to dissociate sex from commitment and fecundity.

In the 21st Century, the elderly stand in the way of a revolution in health care. They're just to darn expensive to make health care affordable for "everyone".

In the 20th Century, ideological revolutions mitigated the brake-effects of undesirable classes by giving them euphemistic titles and then killing them. The elderly in the U.S. don't yet have a name I can stick in quotes, but they have a plan for eliminating their brake-effect on the health care revolution - HR 3200, "America's Affordable Health Choices Act of 2009".

OK, that was a little over the top you think? Maybe, but there are enough credible questions about this bill's "end of life" and rationing provisions for the elderly and all Americans to demand Nancy Pelosi give it a fair, open and exhaustive hearing.

Take a look at these:

Wall Street Journal article called "GovernmentCare’s Assault on Seniors" looks at the QALY (quality-adjusted life years) method of denying seniors health care in HR 3200:
The Congressional majority wants to pay for its $1 trillion to $1.6 trillion health bills with new taxes and a $500 billion cut to Medicare. This cut will come just as baby boomers turn 65 and increase Medicare enrollment by 30%. Less money and more patients will necessitate rationing. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that only 1% of Medicare cuts will come from eliminating fraud, waste and abuse.

The assault against seniors began with the stimulus package in February. Slipped into the bill was substantial funding for comparative effectiveness research, which is generally code for limiting care based on the patient’s age. Economists are familiar with the formula, where the cost of a treatment is divided by the number of years (called QALYs, or quality-adjusted life years) that the patient is likely to benefit. In Britain, the formula leads to denying treatments for older patients who have fewer years to benefit from care than younger patients.

When comparative effectiveness research appeared in the stimulus bill, Rep. Charles Boustany Jr., (R., La.) a heart surgeon, warned that it would lead to “denying seniors and the disabled lifesaving care.” He and Sen. Jon Kyl (R., Ariz.) proposed amendments to no avail that would have barred the federal government from using the research to eliminate treatments for the elderly or deny care based on age.

The rationing system isn't even economically beneficial according to the Journal:
The harshest misconception underlying the legislation is that living longer burdens society. Medicare data prove this is untrue. A patient who dies at 67 spends three times as much on health care at the end of life as a patient who lives to 90, according to Dr. Herbert Pardes, CEO of New York Presbyterian Medical Center.

What is costly is when seniors become disabled. In a 2007 Health Affairs article, researchers reported that surgeries to unclog arteries and replace worn out hips and knees have had a major impact on steadily reducing disability rates. And nondisabled seniors use only one-seventh as much health care as disabled seniors. As a result, the annual increase in per capita health spending on the elderly is less than for the rest of the population.

Also see this article going page through 1017 pages of HR 3200 finding multiple examples of rationing, denial of service and coercion in the bill (ht - The Anchoress), excerpts:
PG 425 Lines 4-12 Government mandates Advance Care Planning Consultations. Think Senior Citizens end of life prodding.

Pg 425 Lines 17-19 Government will instruct & consult regarding living wills, durable powers of attorney. Mandatory!

PG 425 Lines 22-25, 426 Lines 1-3 Government provides approved list of end of life resources, guiding you in how to die.

PG 427 Lines 15-24 Government mandates program for orders for end of life. The Government has a say in how your life ends.

Pg 429 Lines 1-9 An "advanced care planning consultant" will be used frequently as patients’ health deteriorates.

PG 429 Lines 10-12 "advanced care consultation" may include an ORDER for end of life plans. AN ORDER from the Government to end a life!

Pg 429 Lines 13-25 - The Government will specify which Doctors can write an end of life order.

PG 430 Lines 11-15 The Government will decide what level of treatment you will have at end of life.

Finally, when you've read all this, go to American Papist and vote in his poll on whether you support the current form of Obama's health bill. AmP phrases the question right. We need to provide health care for those who can't afford it - that's the teaching of the Church. We don't need the entirely different and counter-productive bill being pushed through Congress right now.

Friday, July 24, 2009

USCCB Official Slams Ryan-DeLauro Planned Parenthood Bailout Bill

From USCCB Prolife office (emphases mine). We'll have a report on the actual numbers in the bill when the text is posted.

Let the Taxpayers Beware!

By Susan E. Wills

It should be called the Planned Parenthood Economic Stimulus Package of 2009.

Instead, co-sponsors Tim Ryan (D-OH) and Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) have given their “new” (though largely recycled) bill the promising title “Preventing Unintended Pregnancies, Reducing the Need for Abortion and Supporting Parents Act.” Sponsors describe the bill as a “common ground” approach to reducing unintended pregnancies and abortions, one that should appeal to opposing sides in the abortion debate.

Sure, the bill is dressed up with some funding for after-school programs, and some (very poorly crafted) efforts to provide support for pregnant students. But make no mistake. The bill is “about access to birth control,” according to Congressman Ryan (MSNBC’s “Hardball,” May 19, 2009). In the same interview, Ryan explained: “We have to have birth control and contraception offered to these poor women who don’t have access to contraception, period, dot. There’s no other way we’re going to be able to reduce [abortions].” About what you’d expect in a bill whose co-sponsors enjoy a 100% pro-choice rating from NARAL.

Accordingly, their bill calls for grants for comprehensive sexuality education (abstinence-only educators need not apply!). It substantially increases funding for the federal Title X Family Planning Program. It denies state choice, making family planning services a mandatory Medicaid entitlement in all states, and greatly expands family planning eligibility under Medicaid to all women who are eligible under state law for prenatal, labor, and delivery care.

Some people might find this approach sensible. But they ignore at least two things. First, since at least 1980, taxpayers have been funding “family planning services” to the tune of over $1 billion per year. In 2006 such public expenditures totaled $1.85 billion. So today, virtually all teenagers who are sexually active and do not want to become pregnant are already using contraception. Only 7% are not using it, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

Second, contraceptives don’t work very well in real life. In the first 12 months of contraceptive use, 16.4% of teens (1 in 6) will become pregnant. Among low-income cohabiting teens, the failure (pregnancy) rate over 12 months is 48.4% for birth control pills and 71.7% for condoms.

Numerous studies in the United States and Europe have found that greater access to contraception fails to reduce unintended pregnancies and abortions. A recent $10 million intervention in England giving at-risk teens comprehensive sex education and contraception is a perfect example. Teens in the program had a pregnancy rate 2.5 times higher than a similar group of at-risk teens (16 vs. 6 percent).

Why does increased access to contraception fail at the population level? Thinking they are protected from pregnancy and disease, more young people become sexually active and have more partners, offsetting any reduction in pregnancy from individual contraceptive use. And the increased level of sexual activity causes STD rates to soar. In the U.S., 1 in 4 teen girls has at least one STD; many of these are incurable and some are fatal.

The sharpest decline in unintended pregnancies and abortions since 1990 has occurred among those under 18, due not to comprehensive sex ed or contraception, but chiefly to the growing number of young people choosing to remain abstinent. Visit the Secretariat’s website for contraception facts and citations at www.usccb.org/prolife/issues/contraception/index.shtml, and let your member of Congress know that the Ryan/DeLauro bill cannot fulfill the promises in its title. The real abortion-reduction bill in Congress now is the Pregnant Women Support Act (S.1032, H.R.2035), which needs our support.

Susan Wills is Assistant Director for Education and Outreach in the Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. To learn more about the bishops’ pro-life activities, see www.usccb.org/prolife.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Lies about Democrats for Life and Tim Ryan's Voting Record

A Planned Parenthood bailout bill by Reps. Tim Ryan (D-OH) and Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) is being rolled out today and already two falsehoods are emerging consistently in press reports.

The first is the claim that Rep. Tim Ryan was booted from the advisory board at Democrats for Life of America because he supports funding contraception. That is false and Democrats for Life explained their position on contraception on their website yesterday:
DFLA does not take a position on contraception. Despite rumors to the contrary, we do not oppose contraception. We believe that preventing pregnancy is an important part of reducing the abortion rate in America. There are several ways to address prevention, but there is no clear consensus because of ethical, religious or personal reasons.

We are focused on helping pregnant women carry their pregnancies to term and making sure that families have affordable health care, a living wage and the means to support their children during the pregnancy and beyond. The Pregnant Women Support Act, introduced by Congressman Lincoln Davis (D-TN) and Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) will support these goals.

Ryan's $700 million Planned Parenthood bailout euphemistically titled, "Preventing Unintended Pregnancies, Reducing the Need for Abortion and Supporting Parents Act", has been introduced in Congress twice before and he was not booted out of Democrats for Life because of his fondness for contraception. In fact, even from his earliest days with DFLA, Ryan has been forthright about his support for contraception and that has not landed him in the doghouse with DFLA.

The real reason Rep. Ryan was booted from DFLA is related to the second false claim in reports about today's unveiling of the Planned Parenthood bailout bill. Most news outlets are claiming that Rep. Ryan is prolife, with some of the more honest outlets saying he "describes himself as prolife".

Rep. Tim Ryan is not prolife. In the current and last sessions of Congress Tim Ryan had the exact same voting score from National Right to Life as Rosa DeLauro - 0. While once prolife, Ryan's record is now as extreme on abortion as Rep. DeLauro and Senator Barbara Boxer - supporting even taxpayer funding of abortion in DC.

His voting record on life is the reason he was removed from his position at DFLA as was clearly stated by DFLA President Kristen Day last week.

The lie that Tim Ryan is prolife is very convenient for the true backers of the "Preventing Unintended Pregnancies, Reducing the Need for Abortion and Supporting Parents Act". Planned Parenthood and NARAL can say the bill represents "common ground". But claiming the bill is "common ground" and that Ryan is prolife are both lies.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

This Week Could Determine Abortion in Healthcare

Several competing voices are making demands this week about abortion coverage in health care reform. I'll take them basically chronologically.

Last night, formerly pro-life Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH) and three other Democrats sent a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) seeking "common ground" on funding abortion in health care. Here's the gist:
We believe that a common ground solution is to include language in the final legislation that makes clear that no insurance company will be required to pay for an abortion except in extraordinary circumstances -- nor will they be prohibited from paying for an abortion, so long as health insurance plans offered in the exchange that choose to provide abortion coverage pay for those services with funds that are separate and distinct from any federal subsidies.

The problem with Ryan's proposal is that it simply makes abortion funding fungible - a fact not even lost on this AP reporter:
However, it's unclear whether insurance companies could keep federal subsidies separate from other funds they receive from individuals and employers to cover premiums.

Speaking to Ben Smith at Politico:
Ryan said he hadn't won the support of national right-to-life organization for his proposal, but that "the traditional pro-life groups no longer speak for pro-life people. They're completely out of touch."

Ryan's proposal is significantly different from one made earlier by 20 demonstrably pro-life Democrats in a letter to Pelosi June 25:
"We cannot support any health care reform proposal unless it explicitly excludes abortion from the scope of any government-defined or subsidized health insurance plan. . ."

This morning, Pro-Life Caucus co chair Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI) and Rep. Joe Pitts (R-PA) held a press conference representing a bi-partisan pro-life coalition of congressmen. Following is Pitts' statement:
“We stand before you today to highlight an issue that is of the highest level of importance – promoting and protecting the value of human life.

This issue is not about party politics. It is not about obstructionism. It is about saving lives and protecting pro-life Americans across the country.

We stand here today – Republicans and Democrats – to speak for the millions of Americans who do not want their taxpayer dollars to be used to finance the destruction of human life. We stand here today – Republicans and Democrats – to speak out against forcing Americans to participate in plans that cover abortion.

As currently drafted, the proposed health care reform legislation will mandate and subsidize abortion. It will require virtually every American to have a plan that meets the “minimum health benefit standards.”

Without an explicit exclusion, abortion will be determined to be included in these benefit standards and will be forced on Americans all across the country. In the House Ways and Means Committee and the House Education and Labor Committee, amendments were offered to clarify that abortion mandates and subsidies should not be a part of health care reform. However, these amendments were rejected.

And over the weekend, when asked if he would rule out funding for abortion under the legislation, OMB Director Peter Orszag answered, “I’m not prepared to rule it out.” However, even if the administration has a change of heart and decides to rule out requiring coverage of abortion, the courts will step in and do so. In the case of Medicaid, the courts ruled that abortion fit within many of the broad mandatory categories mentioned and had to be covered. As a result, Medicaid paid for 300,000 abortions per year until the Hyde Amendment was passed.

This plan will expand public funding for health care beyond the jurisdiction of the Hyde Amendment, so we cannot rely on the annual appropriations provision to prevent massive taxpayer funding for abortion.

The issue here is simple – American taxpayers should not be forced to pay for abortion. Nor should they be forced to be unwitting participants as the abortion industry uses this law to mainstream the destruction of human life into America’s health care industry.

That is why I am working with my colleagues to offer amendments in the Committee that would protect Americans from being forced into plans that cover abortion and would ensure that taxpayers are not forced to pay for abortion.

And that is why my colleagues and I stand before you today – to ask that we not make health care about destroying life, but that we rather continue to work to save lives.”

Rep. Stupak also spoke but did not have a prepared text. His office will provide a transcript later today and we'll post it as an update.

Tomorrow, two big events.

First, as reported earlier, formerly pro-life Rep. Tim Ryan and way pro-choice Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) will unveil their massive Planned Parenthood bailout bill at an 11:30 a.m. (Eastern) press conference tomorrow. Their "Reducing the Need for Abortion and Supporting Parents Act" is heavily weighted toward the former with lots of cash for contraception and teen sex-ed which is why NARAL and Planned Parenthood will be at the conference to support the bill (along with a couple of useful idiot ministers):
Congressman Ryan and DeLauro will be joined by supporters of the bill from across the abortion divide including Dr. Joel C. Hunter, Senior Pastor at Northland Church and board member of the World Evangelical Alliance and the National Association of Evangelicals, representatives from NARAL Pro-Choice America, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, and Pastor Derrick Harkins of the Nineteenth Street Baptist Church and board member of World Relief, the humanitarian arm of the National Association of Evangelicals. These supporters are among dozens of prominent pro-choice and pro-life leaders from the religious community and the secular advocacy world who are united in their support for this bill.

Lastly, a major pro-life event is planned for tomorrow at 9:00 p.m. Eastern and you can participate. Visit StopTheAbortionMandate.com for information and to register for the telecast. Speakers include:

KRISTEN DAY, Democrats for Life of America
DOUGLAS JOHNSON, National Right to Life Committee
CONGRESSMAN CHRIS SMITH, Congressional Pro-life Caucus Co-Chair
DAY GARDNER, National Black Pro-Life Union
MARJORIE DANNENFELSER, Susan B. Anthony List
FR. FRANK PAVONE, Priests for Life
DR. CHARMAINE YOEST, Americans United for Life

And many more. Here's a bit of what they'll be talking about:
Powerful abortion industry lobbyists and Wasington, D.C., politicians have just launched a massive effort to mandate taxpayer-funded abortions as part of their proposed trillion-dollar healthcare takeover.

This political power-grab is an effort to implement one of the cornerstones of the "Freedom of Choice Act" (FOCA), and could lead to a massive abortion industry bailout -- something the overwhelming majority of Americans oppose, and certainly cannot afford in these tough economic times.

Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion chain, received more than $350 million in taxpayer funding last year and ended the year with a $112 million surplus. . .

During this nationwide event, you will discover:

* The shocking facts about the sweeping legislation that the political power brokers are trying to ram through before Congress goes on summer recess...
* The devastating implications of the proposed mandates -- facts the abortion industry doesn't want Americans to hear...
* Why respected leaders, national organizations, and pro-life people are joining together in record numbers to challenge this attempted power-grab...
* The exact action steps YOU can take to make a difference at this crucial moment...

Go there and sign up. This is the week to make a difference.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Atheists Need Better Liturgists

Religion News Service reports on the phenomenon of atheists who feel the very-telling need to get ritually de-baptized. From the ritual:
In a type of mock ceremony that's now been performed in at least four states, a robed "priest" used a hairdryer marked "reason" in an apparent bid to blow away the waters of baptism once and for all. Several dozen participants then fed on a "de-sacrament" (crackers with peanut butter) and received certificates assuring they had "freely renounced a previous mistake, and accepted Reason over Superstition."

I'm going to leave all the irony alone here, in part because it's too obvious to my readers. I'd like to discuss why these guys need a new liturgist.

A symbol is powerful because it is at the same time obvious and suitable for sustained contemplation.

On the obvious side, water is necessary for life; flame gives light; bread provides nourishment.

A very little deeper, water drowns; flame burns; the bread which gives nourishment is itself consumed.

Both meanings are very suitable for the presentation and contemplation of Christian doctrine and there are many more meanings to these Christian symbols.


A good symbol also requires no label, unlike the atheist hairdryer labeled "Reason". The symbol for "Reason" should be obvious and powerful enough that it requires no label. But there is no clear connection between a hairdryer and "Reason". Someone who labels things is more of a sloppy editorial cartoonist than a powerful image maker. Isn't that one reason we hated those 70s felt banners?

Leaving that aside, what does a hairdryer do? It blows hot air. Umm, on second thought maybe they picked a revealing symbol for atheism after all.

USCCB Statement Urges Universal Coverage, No Abortion, Total Conscience Rights

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops just released a July 17 letter from Bishop William Murphy, Chair of the bishops' Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development. It was sent to all members of Congress, the White House and Health and Human Services and addresses the conference' concerns on health care reform, emphases original:
On behalf of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), I write to outline our policy priorities and to express hope that the serious efforts of the Congressional committees will bring genuine life-affirming reform to the nation’s health care system. The USCCB looks forward to working with you to reform health care successfully in a manner that offers accessible, affordable and quality health care that protects and respects the life and dignity of all people from conception until natural death.

For decades, the Catholic bishops of the United States have been and continue to be consistent advocates for comprehensive health care reform that leads to health care for all, including the weakest and most vulnerable. The bishops want to support health care reform. We have in the past and we always must insist that health care reform excludes abortion coverage or any other provisions that threaten the sanctity of life.

As Congress begins debate on health care reform the Catholic bishops of the United States offer the following criteria for fair and just health care reform. Health care reform needs to reflect basic ethical principles. We offer these as a guide:

• a truly universal health policy with respect for human life and dignity;

• access for all with a special concern for the poor and inclusion of legal immigrants;

• pursuing the common good and preserving pluralism including freedom of conscience and variety of options; and

• restraining costs and applying them equitably across the spectrum of payers.

Two of these criteria need special attention as Congress moves forward with health care reform.

Respect for life and dignity: As we renew our longstanding support for reforming our nation’s health care system, we must also be clear that we strongly oppose inclusion of abortion as part of a national health care benefit. We would also oppose inclusion of technologies that similarly fail to uphold the sanctity and dignity of life. No health care reform plan should compel us or others to pay for the destruction of human life, whether through government funding or mandatory coverage of abortion. Any such action would be morally wrong. It also would be politically unwise. No health care legislation that compels Americans to pay for or participate in abortion will find sufficient votes to pass.

For decades, Congress has respected the right of health care providers to decline involvement in abortion or abortion referrals, without exception, and has respected moral and religious objections in other contexts as well. The Weldon amendment to the Labor/HHS appropriations act, approved by Congress each year since 2004, forbids any federal agency or program (or state or local government receiving federal funds under the act) to discriminate against individual or institutional health care providers or insurers because they decline to provide, pay for, provide coverage of, or refer for abortion. Programs, such as Medicaid, that provide funding for the rare “Hyde exception” abortions, also provide for participation in the program by health care providers who decline to provide any abortions at all. (For a compilation of such federal laws, see www.usccb.org/prolife/issues/abortion/crmay08.pdf.) Health care reform cannot be a vehicle for abandoning this consensus which respects freedom of conscience and honors our best American traditions. Any legislation should reflect longstanding and widely supported current policies on abortion funding, mandates and conscience protections because they represent sound morality, wise policy and political reality. Making the legislation “abortion- neutral” in this sense will be essential for widely accepted reform.

Access for all: Reform efforts must begin with the principle that decent health care is not a privilege, but a right and a requirement to protect the life and dignity of every person. All people need and should have access to comprehensive, quality health care that they can afford, and it should not depend on their stage of life, where or whether they or their parents work, how much they earn, where they live, or where they were born. The Bishops’ Conference believes health care reform should be truly universal and it should be genuinely affordable. Many lower-income families simply lack the resources to meet their health care expenses. For these families, significant premiums and cost-sharing charges can serve as barriers to obtaining coverage or seeing a doctor. Therefore, Medicaid cost-sharing protections should be maintained and new coverage options should protect the lowest income enrollees from burdensome cost sharing. We urge Congress to limit premiums or exempt families earning less than 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Level from monthly premiums. We also recommend limiting co-payments and other costs which could discourage needed care. In order to move toward universal coverage, we urge increases in eligibility levels. For example, we urge Congress to maintain at least the proposed minimum national eligibility level for Medicaid at 150 percent and CHIP at 300 percent of the Federal Poverty Level; to ensure comprehensive coverage; and to provide states with the resources to expand coverage.

After health care reform is implemented, some individuals and families, including immigrants, will still lack health insurance coverage. We have a responsibility to ensure that no one is left without the ability to see a doctor when he or she is sick or get emergency care when his or her health is at risk. Therefore, we urge Congress to ensure sufficient funding for safety-net clinics, hospitals and other providers serving those who will continue to fall through the cracks of a reformed system.

The Catholic bishops renew our appeal to provide equity for legal immigrants in access to health care. This can be accomplished, in part, by repealing the five-year ban for legal immigrants to access Medicaid; repealing the applicability of “sponsor-deeming” for Medicaid and CHIP; and ensuring that pregnant women in the United States, who will be giving birth to children who are United States citizens, are eligible along with their unborn children for health care regardless of their immigration status. Immigrants pay the same taxes as citizens and their health needs cannot be ignored. Leaving them outside a reformed system is both unfair and unwise.

Health care is not just another issue for the Church or for a healthy society. It is a fundamental issue of human life and dignity. Health care is a critical component of the Catholic Church’s ministry. The Church provides health care, purchases health care and picks up the pieces of a failing health care system. The Catholic community encounters and serves the sick and uninsured in our emergency rooms, shelters and on the doorsteps of our parishes. One out of six patients is cared for in Catholic hospitals. We bring both strong convictions and everyday experience to the issue of health care.

We look forward to working with you on these priorities as you make important choices on how to strengthen and improve health care, a most important national priority. Genuine health care reform that protects the life and dignity of all is a moral imperative and a vital national obligation.

Sincerely,
Bishop William F. Murphy
Diocese of Rockville Centre
Chairman, Committee Domestic Justice and Human Development

Blegging You - Need Car for Filipino Priests in KC

The Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity (SOLT) Philippine province has kindly sent two of their priests to help out in the Kansas City - St. Joseph Diocese.

Reverends Francisco Guianan, SOLT and Lauro Bejo, SOLT are in residence at Our Lady of Peace in Kansas City. They are fluent in Spanish, English and Tagalog and are serving Spanish speaking communities and others throughout the diocese.

Problem is, they need to bum rides, but both have acquired Missouri driver's licenses.

Anyone have a car (or two) they could give to these, by all accounts, faithful, kind, loving priests so they could better minister in our diocese?

Call or email:
Gustavo Valdez
Valdez@diocesekcsj.org
816-756-1850, ext. 209

Thanks and God bless you!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Updated - Rep. Tim Ryan Booted from Democrats for Life - Why It Matters

UPDATE BELOW
Last week, Democrats for Life of America President Kristen Day penned an article for Catholic Online in which she revealed that Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH) had been removed from the group's advisory board, excerpt:
There was a time when pro-life Democrats were proud of Congressman Ryan. He was even elected to the National Advisory Board for Democrats For Life of America (DFLA). But in the last year or so Congressman Ryan’s voting record has become more and more pro-abortion. After his last vote in favor of taxpayer funded abortions, his credibility as a pro-life legislator has crumbled with the national pro-life community.

These developments forced DFLA to quietly remove Congressman Ryan from the National Advisory Board last year. DFLA gave Congressman Ryan ample opportunities to prove he’s committed to protecting life but he has turned his back on the community at every turn.

Speaking to Vindy.com on July 13, Ryan called Democrats for Life of America a "fringe group" and said:
“We’re working in Congress with groups that agree with preventative options while [the DFLA] is getting left behind,” Ryan said. “I can’t figure out for the life of me how to stop pregnancies without contraception. Don’t be mad at me for wanting to solve the problem.”

Ryan achieved a 0 percent score from National Right to Life both in 2009 and 2008 and last week he did something truly astonishing for a self-described "pro-life" congressman.

Rep. Lincoln Davis (D-TN) had proposed a amendment to remove funding for abortion from the DC Appropriations bill. The Rules Committee barred consideration of the amendment. 39 Democrats voted to bring Davis' amendment up for a vote. Tim Ryan did not.

So not only is Tim Ryan no longer pro-life - he is actively working against pro-life Democrats who have risked their political careers to support life in the party.

DFLA's Day speculated in her column at Catholic Online that lust for higher office may be responsible for Ryan's about face on abortion, but she held out hope he would change again.

Why it Matters that Ryan is not Pro-life

A friend who works on Capitol Hill believes that Ryan along with Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) will introduce the Reducing the Need for Abortions Initiative this week. The move has already been telegraphed by a number of Catholic prObama groups and so has the spin. Writing in the Washington Post last week, two officials with Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good wrote:
President Obama has emphasized respectful dialogue and supports efforts to help women avoid the tragedy of abortion. Pro-life Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) and pro-choice Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) are sponsoring legislation in the House with the goal of reducing the number of abortions.

The Ryan-DeLauro Bill looks to be presented as the President's much vaunted "common ground" approach to reducing abortion - appealing to both pro-life and pro-choice leaders. Problem is, it is sponsored by two pro-choice legislators. By his consistent moves in the last two legislative sessions, Rep. Ryan has given up any claim to being pro-life. As we mentioned above, he is actually working against pro-life Democrats.

This Ryan-DeLauro bill is meant to derail any truly common ground approach to aid women in crisis pregnancies and their families. In its previous incarnations the bill is top heavy with hundreds of millions for Planned Parenthood and lite on actual support for women. Its unveiling this week will reveal whether it gives more to Planned Parenthood and abortion providers than before.

That is my fear and should cause concern for all who have supported common ground efforts to reduce abortion. Now more than ever, it is critical for Democrats and Republicans to show support for the Pregnant Women Support Act written by Democrats for Life and strongly supported by the USCCB.

UPDATE

Mark Shea sums up what common ground on abortion means for President Obama as no one can:
"Common Ground" means "On the one hand, legalize abortion; on the other hand, federally fund it."

And if that ends up being the end all and be all of "reducing the need for abortion", Deal Hudson at InsideCatholic and the widely respected chair of the Congressional pro-life caucus, Rep. Chris Smith, both opine that President Obama lied to Pope Benedict about his intention to reduce abortions.

Facilitating that lie were not only the now totally discredited DNC Catholic shingle front groups, but the editor of L'Osservatore Romano as Hudson reports.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Welcoming a Child Destined Soon to Die

The following originally appeared in Catholic San Francisco newspaper, Apr. 27, 2001:

The Mysterious Presence of Baby Adam

By Jack Smith

"His presence among us was a mysterious sign of that peace the world cannot give." -Christopher deVinck, The Power of the Powerless

Imagine being told by your doctor that the child you are carrying will likely die hours after birth. Then imagine carrying that knowledge through the next several months of pregnancy and through labor and delivery.

For me, as a man, it stretches the credibility of the Church's absolute teaching in defense of life from the moment of conception. I certainly would not want my wife to go through those months of physical and psychological torture only to deliver a child who would soon die in her arms. What is the point?

How much more the pain for a young woman who would have to endure this ordeal.

When she was three months pregnant with her first child, my college friend Amy was given the news by her doctor that her child had anencephaly, a neural defect, and would surely die soon after birth. As a military wife, she was living far away from friends and family who could give her support. She chose, nonetheless, to go on with the pregnancy.

After her child was born and died, she sent out a letter to her friends. I had already known what happened, so when I started to read the beginning of the letter, I found it strangely macabre. It was a birth announcement:

Patrick and Amy McNamara
proudly announce the birth of their son
Adam Christopher McNamara
June 15, 1994
5 lbs. 9oz., 19 in.

Proudly? Why announce it at all, I thought.

She went on to say:

"Adam was our son for nine months and four hours on this earth. The duration of his life was spent in our arms and in the arms of his grandmothers. Four hours was enough time to baptize and confirm Adam, to appreciate his perfectly formed body, to shower parental affection on him, and four hours was enough time for Adam to touch our hearts in a way that we would have never dreamed of only a few months before.

Our son brought an immeasurable amount of joy into our lives. When we miss Adam and sadness begins to descend, we recall this joy and pray that the strength of this memory will sustain us."

I couldn't believe how Amy had found any joy in this incident. I would have been devastated and angry at God. I started to understand when I read on.

Not only did this young woman demonstrate remarkable strength through this trial, but she found beauty in it and was strength to her husband. She included a poem which she wrote for her husband Patrick on Father's Day, just a few days after his son had died:
A Father wants many things for his child...
To always be there for him through joy and sadness.
To hold him close in warmth and comfort.
To see him triumph despite hardship and struggle.
To watch his life unfold and mature into greatness.
To guide him toward truth and goodness.
And, ultimately, a Father hopes his child will rest for eternity in God's embrace.
Very few Fathers can say,
"Yes, I was there every moment he needed me, I held him from
birth until death, his every action was a triumph, the span of his
life was never wanting for truth, and I know for certain that he
will rest for eternity in the palm of God's hand."

Amy has two beautiful children now. But now I understand why she's proud to have had three.

Sidebar:

I asked Amy permission to print this personal information and she sent me back her approval along with this reflection on the value of Adam's life seven years after his death.
"The mysterious presence of Adam continues to unfold. We have a memory box in our house with mementos and pictures from the few hours we had with him. We have always allowed Monica supervised access to the box. She likes to flip through the phots in our little album. Even though she's only four, she talks freely about 'my brother,' often in a wondrous voice as she ponders that he is in heaven looking down on her, and once in a while with sadness as she wishes she could play with him. She has always been a perceptive and sensitive child, but just a few days ago I was surprised to learn that the beautiful mystery continues already with two year old Claire.

"Patrick has been overseas for seven weeks (with five to go) and Claire has felt his absence most painfully, so we talk about what it means to be a family; that we are a family, all of us, even when Patrick is on the ship 'he's always with us in our hearts.' This brings some comfort to the girls. So a few days ago I was asking Claire who is in her family. She said, 'You, Daddy, Adam.' I had to prompt her for Monica's name, not Adam's! I had no idea that she already understood.

"Adam was born about a month after we moved into this house seven years ago. My mom, then and now, credits a unique peace she feels when at our home to his presence. We are always flattered by her sense of peace when visiting, but never feel we can take credit for it."

Friday, July 17, 2009

'Why Priests Hate Weddings' - Bishop Tobin

Providence Bishop Thomas J. Tobin recycles an old column on marriage this week from his days in Youngstown. It's worth revisiting, excerpts:
. . .This column was to be entitled, “Why Priests Hate Weddings,” but I thought that might be a bit too strong. Nevertheless, ask any priest about his work and he will quickly share with you the challenge of dealing with the Sacrament of Matrimony today.

The problem, in a nutshell, is that the real practice of weddings and marriage today is far different than the ideal of Holy Matrimony as instituted by Christ and taught by the Church.

It begins with the fact that so many couples (perhaps 40%) are living together before they are married. This cohabitation, along with the sexual activity that presumably accompanies it, reveals a lack of understanding about the sanctity of the marriage covenant. . .

. . .Wedding rehearsals are a constant irritant. Bystanders become liturgical experts, infusing the liturgy with every sort of personal preference and creative innovation.

Wedding liturgies themselves become parties rather than prayer, making it nearly impossible to maintain any sense of decorum, any sense of the sacred. Guests arrive late, the bride goes into hiding, the groomsmen have been sitting in the church parking lot drinking; flower girls and ring bearers are very cute but too young to walk up the aisle without crying; the music is chosen from the “top forty list” and the photographer scrambles over the pews to direct the action rather than record it.

It’s exceedingly difficult for the priest to stand in the pulpit with any degree of conviction; to speak about the permanence of marriage when guests are involved in their second or third marriage; about fidelity when spouses have been or will be unfaithful; about sanctity when the newlyweds process out of church never to be seen again; about children when so many brides and grooms carry a contraceptive mentality into their marriage.

The celebrant at my wedding, the late Msgr. Cornelius Burns, bypassed a lot of these wedding problems by giving us no options. We did have a range of approved readings, but beyond that, the whole ceremony was determined by him. The only other option available to us was presented dismissively - "We're not going to do the unity candle, are we?" I had one recessional song I liked and he "suggested" an alternative - which was "accepted".

He directed the rehearsal wholly by his own desires and went through it twice only. "We will not be waiting interminably for the bride," he said, "Even the Pope enters as part of the procession." And since a Jesuit friend who concelebrated (yes, I do have Jesuit friends) was not at the rehearsal, he ended up with no particular role on the wedding day.

And my wife and I greatly appreciated it, well, except that last part. Nothing to worry about or plan. Most especially, no competing interest from family or friends to navigate. There was only one interest that mattered - Msgr. Burns.

He was not a killjoy. He was red in the face and in tears from laughing at the reception where my best man, Tom Hoopes, made him the butt of several jokes in the funniest best man toast ever.

No, he simply understood marriage and the Mass are sacraments and made sure we and all our guests did too.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

L'Osservatore on Oscar Wilde - 'Non e solo un'icona gay'

L'Osservatore Romano had an unsurprisingly positive article on Oscar Wilde yesterday and the British press is perplexed. The article by Andrea Monda is titled "Quando Oscar Wilde incontrĂ² Pio IX" (When Oscar Wilde met Pius IX) and was a review of a book on Wilde by Paolo Gulisano called "Il ritratto di Oscar Wilde", ie., "The Portrait of Oscar Wilde."

A couple of bits translated in an article by The Daily Mail:
L'Osservatore Romano wrote: 'Oscar Wilde was a man constantly looking for the beautiful and the good, but also for a God that he never challenged, respected and who he fully embraced after his dramatic experience of jail, concluding with his communion in the Catholic Church.'

Monda also noted how Dublin-born Wilde had said that 'Catholicism was the only religion to die in' and also recalled his little remembered audience with Pope Pius IX in 1877.

Before the meeting with the Pope, Protestant-born Wilde had said to a friend: 'To go over to Rome would be to sacrifice and give up my two great Gods: Money and Ambition.'

But the audience is believed to have paved the way for his eventual conversion, especially after the Pope told him to 'undertake a journey through life which would take him to the City of God.'

L'Osservatore Romano added: 'Wilde represents a mystery that has yet to be fully revealed. One needs to dig deeper and in doing so a profound religion.'

It went on: 'The existential path which Oscar Wilde trod can also be seen as a long and difficult path toward that Promised Land, which gives us the reason for existence, a path which led him to his conversion to Catholicism, a religion which, as he once said in one of his more acute and paradoxical aphorisms, was "for saints and sinners alone — for respectable people, the Anglican Church will do".'

All pretty straight forward and nothing to surprise any literate, English-speaking Catholic. Wilde's work and his journey have been appreciated and studied by Catholics for years. And the sordid details of his life do not send Catholics running, but only further endear him to us as they manifest the beautiful and unexpected workings of grace and give hope.

But when your mind only contains political categories and slogans and cannot fathom the wideness and variety that the Catholic mind does, you treat this story as the Daily Mail did:
Given his homosexual tendencies and the Catholic Church's strict view of homosexuality, the fact that it had now embraced him was all the more surprising. . .

Pope Benedict XVI's views on gays are well-known and last year he caused outrage by saying that 'homosexuality is as much of a threat to the survival of the human race as climate change'.

News of the Vatican's embrace of Wilde was immediately picked up by several gay Italian websites such as Queer Blog Gay News - who headlined the story 'The Catholics want to take Wilde'.

Or the Times:
In life, he was about as likely a Catholic hero as Pontius Pilate. Now, more than a century after his death, Oscar Wilde has been claimed by The Vatican as one of its own.

Wilde, who died in 1900 after finding God and converting to Roman Catholocism on his deathbed, has long been regarded by the Vatican as a dissolute homosexual who was sentenced and imprisoned for acts of gross indecency over his relationship with Lord Alfred Douglas. . .

Pope Benedict XVI, a vehement opponent of gay marriages or civil unions, has reinforced Catholic teaching that homosexuality is a disorder. Men “with deeply rooted homosexual tendencies” are banned from training for the priesthood under Vatican rules. On the other hand the Pope has often belied his reputation as a dogmatic hardliner since his election four years ago, for example devoting his first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est, to spiritual and physical love.

Literature, longing, demons, desire, truth, redemption, grace, beauty, wisdom, suffering, humor, joy, life and death - all boil down to where you stand on same-sex marriage for the very small minds in secular journalism.

The full text of the L'Or article in Italian is here.

N.T. Wright on Counter-intuitive Christian Sexual Ethic

In the midst of a column on the ramifications of the Episcopal Church's decision to consecrate active homosexuals as bishops, Anglican Bishop of Durham N.T. Wright makes a very serviceable apologetic for Christian sexual morality, my emphases:
That wider tradition always was counter-cultural as well as counter-intuitive. Our supposedly selfish genes crave a variety of sexual possibilities. But Jewish, Christian and Muslim teachers have always insisted that lifelong man-plus-woman marriage is the proper context for sexual intercourse. This is not (as is frequently suggested) an arbitrary rule, dualistic in overtone and killjoy in intention. It is a deep structural reflection of the belief in a creator God who has entered into covenant both with his creation and with his people (who carry forward his purposes for that creation).

Paganism ancient and modern has always found this ethic, and this belief, ridiculous and incredible. But the biblical witness is scarcely confined, as the shrill leader in yesterday’s Times suggests, to a few verses in St Paul. Jesus’s own stern denunciation of sexual immorality would certainly have carried, to his hearers, a clear implied rejection of all sexual behaviour outside heterosexual monogamy. This isn’t a matter of “private response to Scripture” but of the uniform teaching of the whole Bible, of Jesus himself, and of the entire Christian tradition.

The appeal to justice as a way of cutting the ethical knot in favour of including active homosexuals in Christian ministry simply begs the question. Nobody has a right to be ordained: it is always a gift of sheer and unmerited grace. The appeal also seriously misrepresents the notion of justice itself, not just in the Christian tradition of Augustine, Aquinas and others, but in the wider philosophical discussion from Aristotle to John Rawls. Justice never means “treating everybody the same way”, but “treating people appropriately”, which involves making distinctions between different people and situations. Justice has never meant “the right to give active expression to any and every sexual desire”.

Such a novel usage would also raise the further question of identity. It is a very recent innovation to consider sexual preferences as a marker of “identity” parallel to, say, being male or female, English or African, rich or poor. Within the “gay community” much postmodern reflection has turned away from “identity” as a modernist fiction. We simply “construct” ourselves from day to day.

We must insist, too, on the distinction between inclination and desire on the one hand and activity on the other — a distinction regularly obscured by references to “homosexual clergy” and so on. We all have all kinds of deep-rooted inclinations and desires. The question is, what shall we do with them? One of the great Prayer Book collects asks God that we may “love the thing which thou commandest, and desire that which thou dost promise”. That is always tough, for all of us. Much easier to ask God to command what we already love, and promise what we already desire. But much less like the challenge of the Gospel.

For those interested in such, a discussion of the future of the Anglican communion bookends the column.

Urgent Action - Alternatives to Abortion Program in Jeopardy

From the Missouri Catholic Conference:

Action Alert

Alternatives to Abortion Program (ATA) In Jeopardy

Missouri Department of Health proposes funding cuts to ATA

In response to Governor's Nixon's request for state departments to identify programs that can be cut to address the current state budget crisis, the Missouri Department of Health is recommending cuts to the Alternatives to Abortion program (ATA). ATA funding for fiscal year 2010 could be cut entirely or reduced severely.

ATA provides a wide range of emergency services to women facing crisis pregnancies. The Missouri Department of Health contracts with a consortium of faith-based providers, including Catholic Charities of St. Louis and Kansas City-St. Joseph. Services provided include housing, counseling, prenatal care, job placement assistance, and adoption referrals. Research shows that providing alternative services encourages more women to carry their unborn child to term thereby reducing the number of abortions.

On Tuesday, July 14, Governor Nixon decided against cutting $1.5 million for the Tour of Missouri bike race. See this link for more information. Surely saving unborn children is more important than a bicycle race!

No one disputes that the state budget is under severe constraints. Governor Nixon plans to withhold $325 million from the state budget proposed by the Missouri General Assembly. Some budget cuts are certainly necessary, but the ATA program merits more budget protection than, say, enrichment programs for gifted children (surely, these kids can get along without enrichment for a year in order to save unborn children).

In the context of the multi-billion dollar state budget, the $1.9 million allocated for the ATA program represents a very modest investment toward saving unborn children and assisting women in crisis pregnancies. Ultimately, a state budget is a moral document: it shows what our state's priorities are. Missouri has been a leader in reducing abortions and the ATA program has been a key component of that pro-life effort. Cutting ATA would be a step backward in our state's efforts to save unborn children and to support pregnant women.

In January, Governor Nixon promised to fully fund ATA (see the MCC Press Release or Life News article). This is one campaign promise citizens need to make sure Governor Nixon keeps!

ACTION REQUESTED:

Contact Governor Nixon immediately!!! See contact information below.

THE MESSAGE:

Please don't cut funds from the Alternatives to Abortion program. This program offers women in crisis pregnancies a wide range of services, such as emergency housing, counseling, prenatal care and adoption referrals. ATA is one way our state can reduce abortions while supporting women in need. In the context of a multi-billion dollar state budget, the $1.9 million allocated for ATA is a very modest investment in protecting unborn children and helping women in crisis pregnancies. Saving unborn children is more important than a bicycle race!

Contact Gov. Nixon
PO Box 720
2nd Floor State Capital Bldg
Jefferson City, MO 65102
Phone: (573) 751-3222

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

VOTF's Megalomaniacal Fundraising Follow-up

Earlier we reported on Voice of the Faithful's desperate appeal for cash to stay afloat. Now VOTF head Dan Bartley has issued a follow-up fundraising letter, excerpt:
Some people ask: What could you possibly need $30,000 a month for?

To which I respond: How can we possibly run a nationwide and worldwide movement to transform a well-funded, entrenched 2000-year-old institution with any less?

There is new evidence this month of the need for the Catholic laity to speak up and speak out about our Church. Two recent developments underscore that need:

* Experiencing the same trauma that U.S. Catholics suffered when the clergy sex abuse scandal was exposed in the U.S. in 2002, Catholics in Ireland are now realizing how much has been hidden away from their sight in parishes, schools and orphanages throughout that country; and

* The Vatican has recently launched two investigations in the U.S., not to further understand the sexual abuses by clergy, but to identify American nuns who do not have sufficient “fidelity” to the Vatican.

Everything is wrong here beginning with the notion that VOTF - composed of small groups of largely elderly folk who have always had a beef with the Church - are either called, qualified or relevant to reforming the Bride of Christ. Bad bishops, bad priests - sure, they should be called out. But it is the Church which exists with Christ as its head, guided by the Holy Spirit and led by Apostolic authority which exists to transform Her members.

Second, I have no clue from this letter what $30,000 a month sent to Massachusetts does for the Catholics in Ireland - more delusion of grandeur.

Finally though, this idea that the Church must concentrate its attention on a single problem at all times with all of its resources. The Apostolic Visitation of Women Religious has nothing to do with the sex abuse scandal and neither does the Doctrinal Review of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. And neither endeavor involves resources otherwise available to further understand sexual abuse by clergy.

How soon so many forget, and I'm not speaking here only of VOTF, that there was a very extensive visitation of U.S. seminaries and houses of formation for men. It was much more involved that anything proposed in the two women religious visitations. It also found that seminaries had greatly improved over their last visitation and were now generally healthy (with notable exceptions at some centers for male religious). That health itself was, in part, a fruit of the prior visitation.

There is a false idea furthered here and elsewhere that the visitations for women religious constitute a misogynistic diversion and witch hunt without precipitating cause. We'll look at that claim in a later post. In the meantime, check out Ann Carey's excellent post at pewsitter, "Many Sisters Have Prayed For and Welcome the Vatican’s Visitation."

ACCU Explains Excising Website of their Call to Rescind 'Catholics in Political Life'

John Allen at NCR reported Jun 17 that the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities had suggested at its June 11-12 board meeting that the U.S. Bishops should "scrap their current policy and make a clearer distinction between 'honoring' a politician who holds views contrary to church teaching and merely providing a platform."

The policy in question was the U.S. Bishops' 2004 statement, "Catholics in Political Life," which said among other things that:
The Catholic community and Catholic institutions should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles. They should not be given awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions.

Fort Wayne-South Bend Bishop John D'Arcy and several of the more than 70 U.S. Bishops who publicly objected to Notre Dame's granting of an honorary degree in law to President Obama this spring said the move violated "Catholics in Political Life".

John Allen based his entry about ACCU's call to withdraw "Catholics in Political Life" on a report in the association's summer newsletter which read:
“In response to a request from Bishop Thomas Curry, chair of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Catholic Education, the Board held a lengthy discussion concerning campus speaker policies. This conversation continued a dialogue started by Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who informed bishops in 2006 that their document ‘Catholics in Political Life’ warranted further clarification regarding its application to Catholic higher education.

“ACCU’s directors informally concluded that it would be desirable for the USCCB to withdraw ‘Catholics in Political Life’ since it was written as a stop-gap statement prior to the 2004 national election. A successor document, if any, should distinguish between ‘honors’ and ‘platforms’ and should acknowledge more clearly the differing roles of campus authorities and bishops. In addition, ACCU’s directors suggested that juridical expressions of bishops’ or universities’ responsibilities should be kept to a minimum, lest they inhibit the ‘mutual trust, close and consistent collaboration, and continuing dialogue’ to which Ex corde Ecclesiae calls Church and university authorities.”

The Cardinal Newman Society's Patrick J. Reilly immediately objected to the statement saying, "Lobbying the bishops to back off a perfectly reasonable policy would be a shameful action by the Catholic higher education establishment, and hardly an appropriate response to Notre Dame's betrayal of the nation's bishops and the university's own Catholic mission."

Then on July 1st, Lifesite and Lifenews reported that the second paragraph of ACCU's statement had been removed from the online version of the association's summer "Update" newsletter.

The Catholic Key sent an email to ACCU's Vice-President and newsletter editor Michael Galligan-Stierle, Ph.D., asking for comment. ACCU President Richard A. Yanikoski, Ph.D., responded. Following is the exchange:
1. Was it removed?

Yes, one paragraph was removed.

2. Why was it removed?

Two reasons: (1) ACCU's Update went live before the final, normal internal edit had been completed. That occurred because two of us were just returning from San Diego and other responsibilities delayed the final edit. (2) The paragraph which was deleted in the final edit had already been quoted out of context by the Cardinal Newman Society for the express purpose of making it appear (falsely) that presidents of Catholic colleges and universities were opposing the bishops. In fact, ACCU's conversation about "Catholics in Political Life" was expressly in response to several questions posed to us by Bishop Thomas Curry, chair of the USCCB's Committee on Catholic Education. He requested advice, as the story in Update had indicated.

3. Did anyone request its removal? Who?

The decision was entirely internal.

4. Assuming it was removed for not representing a final or authoritative position of the association, is there now a process to develop an official position on "Catholics in Political Life"?

ACCU and the USCCB will work together to draft some form of successor document to "Catholics in Political Life," at least insofar as Catholic higher education is involved. The timing and manner of the collaborative process have not been set, but most likely will be discussed this autumn when the Committee next meets. You may confirm this in the interview John Allen did with Bishop Curry the week of the USCCB meeting in San Antonio (check NCRonline).

Patrick Reilly disputes Yanikoski's claim that "Update" had gone live before final editing. In fact, he said, when the newsletter was emailed to all subscribers Jun. 16 by Dr. Galligan-Stierle, it contained the now missing paragraph. Reilly sent the following statement:
“The ACCU’s position was stated so clearly, that even the ultra-liberal National Catholic Reporter understood its meaning. The ACCU said it wants the bishops’ 2004 policy scuttled. It allowed that a replacement policy, “if any,” should use clearer language, but then it followed with a threat: “juridical expressions” of educators’ duties “should be kept to a minimum, lest they inhibit” the friendly relationship between universities and their bishops.

“After beating their breasts and issuing the same sort of empty threats they threw at the bishops in 1990 when Ex corde Ecclesiae was issued, it appears that some Catholic university leaders may be duly embarrassed. They should be, not only because of their disrespect toward the bishops and their failure to uphold Catholic principles, but because they have now shamefully sought to hide a publicly stated position and declare it a ‘draft.’”

Regardless the origin of the paragraph and its removal, a June 18 Catholic News Service report seems to confirm both that ACCU does want "Catholics in Political Life" scuttled and that Bishop Curry intends to discuss a revision with them:
"The ACCU is encouraging more dialogue with the bishops, collectively and individually, and not necessarily more documents that are written at a particular moment, but survive indefinitely," Yanikoski told Catholic News Service June 17.

"Ultimately, that is the problem with the 2004 document. It was written in the moment of political heat," during the 2004 U.S. presidential election, he said.

He maintained the 2004 statement is incomplete, has internal ambiguities, uses language that is not consistent with canon law, and that its application is subject to interpretation.

It is possible the bishops will revisit their 2004 statement in the coming months, said Auxiliary Bishop Thomas J. Curry of Los Angeles, chair of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Education, in an interview with the National Catholic Reporter, an independent national Catholic newspaper based in Kansas City, Mo.

Attempts by CNS to reach Bishop Curry were unsuccessful.

Whatever Bishop Curry may think of the document, I can't envision a situation where the U.S. bishops would water down "Catholics in Political Life" in a way pleasing to those college presidents keen on providing platforms and honors for politicians who "act in defiance of our fundamental moral principals". We know there are at least 80 of them who would strongly oppose such a move.