Monday, January 21, 2019

The appropriation of Catholic teaching on abortion


An old friend from the pro-life movement has been tossing Catholic stuff at me, attacking “social justice warriors” – or SJWs, an acronym that reduces six syllables to five and obscures what you’re saying, but it’s an insult.

I’m a pro-life SJW, and so are the Catholic leaders whose words are being abused by the cultural warriors of the right. There are three fundamental documents that the right abuses: Humanae Vitae, Familiaris Consortio, and The Gospel of Life). All three incorporate a social justice approach. The first time the documents are censored and abused it might be just careless. But when anti-abortion chanters with bulldog brains repeat the careless errors, that seems stupid. And when they persevere after hearing the truth, that seems dishonest.

Humanae Vitae

Pope Paul VI wrote the encyclical Humanae Vitae. It’s odd listening to people talk about Paul VI; some people describe him as a neglected leftwing prophet of social justice; others describe him as a persecuted rightwing prophet of personal morality. Was he schizophrenic, or a convert from one side to the other? I think he was, more simply, consistent. And I note that Humanae Vitae makes three arguments about contraception, not just one. He asserted that sex and babies are connected, and the connection is noteworthy. He said that women have wombs, and that’s special; John Paul II repeated that at length in his “theology of the body.” But he also decried the looming threat of global population control. He did not limit his perspective to issues of personal morality; he saw a social and political dimension, and challenged us to see that too.

Global population control was and is racist. The funding and propaganda comes from Europe and America; the targets are Africa and Asia and Latin America. And global population control has always included immigration restrictions: if you can’t depopulate the whole world, you can at least protect Europe and America from the rising tide of color.

It is dishonest to use the teaching of Pope Paul VI, quoting pieces out of context, refusing to notice that his arguments include opposition to population control. He puts abortion in a SJW framework.

Familiaris Consortio

St. John Paul II wrote the apostolic exhortation Familiaris Consortio, on the Feast of Christ the King in 1981. It includes (see FC, 46) a list of the rights of families. That list includes the right of a family to migrate – in search of a better life.

Evangelium Vitae, The Gospel of Life

The focus of this encyclical, published by St. John Paul II on the Feast of the Annunciation in 1995, is abortion. However, the Pope is unambiguous about the context in which he sees abortion. (See EV 3.)

“Today this proclamation is especially pressing because of the extraordinary increase and gravity of threats to the life of individuals and peoples, especially where life is weak and defenseless. In addition to the ancient scourges of poverty, hunger, endemic diseases, violence and war, new threats are emerging on an alarmingly vast scale.” [Emphasis added.]

He continues: “The Second Vatican Council, in a passage which retains all its relevance today, forcefully condemned a number of crimes and attacks against human life. Thirty years later, taking up the words of the Council and with the same forcefulness I repeat that condemnation in the name of the whole Church, certain that I am interpreting the genuine sentiment of every upright conscience: ‘Whatever is opposed to life itself, such as any type of murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia, or willful self-destruction, whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, torments inflicted on body or mind, attempts to coerce the will itself; whatever insults human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children; as well as disgraceful working conditions, where people are treated as mere instruments of gain rather than as free and responsible persons; all these things and others like them are infamies indeed. They poison human society, and they do more harm to those who practice them than to those who suffer from the injury. Moreover, they are a supreme dishonor to the Creator.’(5)” The footnote refers to Gaudium et Spes, #27. [Emphasis added.]

It is not honest to refer to these documents while deliberately and forcefully rejecting a “seamless garment” approach. You can denounce SJWs, OR you can claim to be following the teaching of the Catholic Church. But you can’t do both.

Friday, January 18, 2019

healing and hospitality


Today (1/17) is the feast of St. Anthony, who fled into the desert – not to escape from the legitimate demands of love, but to escape from the reign of superficial and demented and mis-shapen nonsense and evil.

So, I hear in my heart a question from yesterday and an answer today.

Yesterday’s Gospel reading was from the beginning of Mark’s Gospel, or near the beginning. It was another story – this one a very brief vignette – tying salvation and hospitality together. Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law, and she got up and served. The clear proof that she was healed was that she offered hospitality.

Is that generalizable? Is it true for everyone that healing leads directly and promptly to hospitality? That penance and reconciliation lead to the Eucharist, that Good Friday leads to Easter, that the parting of the Red Sea is followed by manna in the desert, that the end of evil is the beginning of love? Or is it specific to her? Is it just Peter’s mother-in-law who does this? Is she a neurotic fussy busy gotta-clean guests-must-sit-and-eat-some-more type, who starts to buzz as soon as she has a muscle that works?

Anthony, who fled to the desert to listen to God, was hospitable to those who sought him and caught him. A healthy heart offers hospitality.

Friday, January 4, 2019

American saints -- and migration


Today is the feast of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton. She’s among the small handful of men and women who have been canonized by the Catholic Church who are known for their work in what is now the United States. I think it’s worthwhile looking at the list of American saint, with an eye on issues of migration.

First, the whole list: there are 11 canonized saints known for their work in the United States.

1.       St. Frances Xavier Cabrini. From Italy, worked with Italians immigrants
2.       St. Junipero Serra, from Catalonia (Spain), came north from Mexico and worked with native Americans
3.       St. Marianne Cope, immigrant from Germany, worked with leprosy patients in Hawaii
4.       St. Damien de Veuster, “Damien the Leper,” from Belgium, worked with leprosy patients in Hawaii
5.       St. Rose Philippine Duchesne, from France, worked with pioneers west of Mississippi and with Native Americans
6.       St. Mother Theodore Guerin, from France, worked with American pioneers in Indiana
7.       St. Isaac Jogues, from France, worked with Native Americans in New York
8.       St. John Neumann, from Bohemia (Czech Republic), worked with German immigrants
9.       St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, from New York, worked with the people of Maryland
10.   St. Kateri Tekakwitha, Mohawk from New York, life of prayer in Montreal
11.   St. Katherine Drexel, from Philadelphia, worked with African Americans and Native Americans

Of those eleven, eight were immigrants themselves:
1.       St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, from Italy
2.       St. Junipero Serra, from Catalonia (Spain)
3.       St. Marianne Cope, from Germany
4.       St. Damien de Veuster, “Damien the Leper,” from Belgium
5.       St. Rose Philippine Duchesne, from France
6.       St. Mother Theodore Guerin, from France
7.       St. Isaac Jogues, from France
8.       St. John Neumann, from Bohemia (Czech Republic)

Of the eleven, seven worked with Native Americans. Obviously, Native Americans are not immigrants, unless their ancestors strayed south of the Rio Grande for too long. But from the perspective of Native Americans, settlers of European descent are immigrants. There are host/guest issues here. Anyway, the seven:
1.       St. Junipero Serra, worked with Native Americans in Mexico and California
2.       St. Marianne Cope, worked with leprosy patients in Hawaii
3.       St. Damien de Veuster, worked with leprosy patients in Hawaii
4.       St. Rose Philippine Duchesne, worked with pioneers west of Mississippi and with Native Americans
5.       St. Isaac Jogues, from France, worked with Native Americans in New York
6.       St. Kateri Tekakwitha was herself Mohawk from New York
7.       St. Katherine Drexel, worked with African Americans and Native Americans

Six of the eleven worked with immigrants or internal migrants – that is, pioneers:

1.       St. Frances Xavier Cabrini worked with Italians immigrants
2.       St. Rose Philippine Duchesne worked with pioneers (migrants) west of Mississippi
3.       St. Mother Theodore Guerin with American pioneers (migrants) in Indiana
4.       St. John Neumann worked with German immigrants
5.       St. Elizabeth Ann Seton ran schools – AND worked with orphans from immigrant families
6.       St. Kateri Tekakwitha lived among Europeans, all immigrants from her perspective
7.       St. Katherine Drexel worked with involuntary immigrants – that is, slaves and their descendants

To me it seems bizarre beyond belief that an American Catholic could be persuaded to adopt an unwelcoming stance – or even hostility – toward immigrants.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

The names of Jesus


New Year’s Day, the eighth day of Christmas.

The reading at Mass today is from Luke’s Gospel, about the shepherds visiting, and about naming Jesus. I was struck afresh by the name. Matthew’s Gospel also says that the child’s name is Jesus, but adds that, in accord with the Isaiah’s prophecy, he will be called Emmanuel.

Jesus means Savior. Emmanuel means God-with-us.

With us: what does that mean? I think it means that someone was visiting someone, that there was a host and guest – although it wasn’t necessarily clear which was which. When the King of the Universe comes to his own (and his own people debate whether to acknowledge him), who’s host, and who’s guest? Throughout Scripture, the issue of host/guest relations comes up over and over, and they are often intermingled – not in confusion, but in unity. They are brought together as one. The key images in Scripture of the unity of the Trinity are: (1) the Father/Son relationship, the two united by the Spirit of Love; and (2) marriage of the husband and wife, who are made one by the Spirit of Love, and (3) the unity of host and guest united by love, as at Mamre and the Visitation and indeed the Incarnation.

Which means: one aspect of the title “Emmanuel” is that it refers to God’s participation in a host/guest relationship with us. It’s about hospitality.

Jesus and Emmanuel: Savior and host/guest. The two names of Jesus correspond to the names of Moses’ children, Gershom and Eliezer. From Exodus 18: 3-4: “One of these was named Gershom; for he [Moses] said, ‘I am a resident alien in a foreign land.’ The other was named Eliezer; for he said, “The God of my father is my help; he has rescued me from Pharaoh’s sword.” (Ger: stranger. El: God. Ezer: help.) The names of Moses’ children refer to hospitality and salvation, like the names Emmanuel and Jesus.

In John’s account of the Last Supper, Jesus washes the feet of his disciples. Explaining this, he says that they call him Lord – and they should, because he is. But he adds carefully: this is what his lordship looks like! You serve, you wash the feet of your guests, like Abraham. That is, his lordship is – in large part – about hospitality. When we speak of Jesus as Lord and Savior, that lordship includes the Lord as Host at a banquet. Lord and Savior: this conjunction of two titles also echoes the names of Jesus and the names of Moses’ two sons.

Indeed, when Jesus taught his disciples to pray, he taught them to address God as Father, and to bless his name and affirm his will – and then to ask for bread and forgiveness – that is, for hospitality and salvation.

In our time, hospitality is often considered to be a minor matter, optional and decorative. But look at the pairs! Emmanuel and Jesus. Gershom and Eliezer. Holy Thursday and Good Friday. Lord and Savior. Hospitality and forgiveness.

Hospitality is a ray of light emanating from the fiery love that is the heart of the Trinity. Yes, it decorates. No, it is not merely decorative.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Towards a border policy


Hi, Tom. I saw your question, and didn’t overlook it. What should we do at the border, about border control? I’ll respond as briefly as I can, but that’s not too brief.

Step one: we must acknowledge that there is a right to control the border and also a right to migrate. These rights are in tension, and must be balanced in justice. That means, whenever we devise a border policy that protects the rights of American citizens and not the rights of immigrants, that policy is already unjust, before we write a single word of the law. Justice requires balance – which, for us today, starts with repentance.

Step two: if and when we smash the remnants of racism in our hearts and in our border laws, we still have to recognize that the ICE packs have done huge damage. If our minds and hearts are clear and pure, a problem we remains: we have a history of injustice reaching way back. We have to address that.

Step three and four: a detail of addressing our history is recognizing that immigrants approaching our border will assume they are approaching a zone of lawlessness – not just the coyotes, but also the land of the unjust brutes who claim that law is law is law, and that a statute based on injustice is still an enforceable stature. ICE has the moral authority of a band of thugs – no more. Our law must embrace the lessons of Prohibition, that you can catch grandma with a tot of whisky or the Mafia, but not both; to enforce the law requires that choose and focus on serious targets. Forget young men looking for work, and chase real criminals. But even after we get that clear in our minds and hearts, we still have to work diligently for years or decades to persuade 100 million skeptics that we are through with racist chases through the bushes to catch suspicious brown people. To enforce the law, we need to focus, and also persuade all interested parties that we have changed and are now intent on enforcing a just policy.

Step five: Pope Paul VI taught that the name for peace in our time is development. That is, if we are serious about peace, we must work hard to address the economic imbalance within our nation and also among nations. The challenges of poverty and corruption and violence in Honduras and El Salvador and elsewhere are not someone else’s problem. We must learn (re-learn) something about the solidarity of nations, and expand our foreign aid by several orders of magnitude.

Then we can talk about how to stop MS-13.

USCCB has sketched an approach.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Pope Paul VI: pioneer of a consistent life ethic


I do not share any piece of the common attitude of disdain or measured contempt for “Humanae Vitae.” Pope Paul VI, who led the Second Vatican Council and declared most emphatically the world’s great need for the Social Gospel, saw this teaching as an integral part of his work. It seems to me that this encyclical does indeed have a tone that differs from his other writing – that he wrote defensively, aware of the hornet’s nest he was kicking. But I could easily be projecting, shoving the popular rejection of the encyclical back into the text itself.

I think it’s silly to say that the encyclical was divisive and ineffective – somehow unlike Paul’s other teaching. Paul called for an end to war: didn’t happen. He called for wealthy nations to treat developing nations as brothers and sisters, and to pour out our hearts extravagantly, as the only alternative to war: didn’t happen. He called for higher taxes: that was divisive. He defended the United Nations – not endorsing any specific structure, but asserting the world’s desperate need for a governmental body with global authority: that was divisive. “Humanae Vitae” was in no way unique among his teaching! If it was divisive, then we should reach across the divide with determination and perseverance! If it “failed” yesterday, struggle toward a better tomorrow!

We don’t have to speculate about the context in which Pope Paul thought his words should be heard. “Humanae Vitae” cries out: “No one can, without being grossly unfair, make divine Providence responsible for what clearly seems to be the result of misguided governmental policies, of an insufficient sense of social justice, of a selfish accumulation of material goods, and finally of a culpable failure to undertake those initiatives and responsibilities which would raise the standard of living of peoples and their children. If only all governments which were able would do what some are already doing so nobly, and bestir themselves to renew their efforts and their undertakings! There must be no relaxation in the programs of mutual aid between all the branches of the great human family.” To be sure, we can and do fuss about details, but who can be contemptuous of his intent?

He made three predictions, should the teaching in HV be rejected. First, he spoke of a general lowering of standards of morality. Was he right? It was five years from the publication (and vilification) of “Humanae Vitae” to the decisions in Roe v Wade and Doe v Bolton.

Second, he predicted that rejecting the teaching would lead to a great new disrespect for women. That, obviously, is controversial; women are in positions of power all over the world, and a woman won the popular vote in the American presidential election of 2016. And third, he predicted that what was permissible would become mandatory. I think he was right about both, and point to Hillary Clinton’s much-celebrated speech at the Beijing women’s conference as evidence of both. She spoke about advances in women’s rights in Beijing, which was then and still is now engaged in the greatest assault on women’s rights in human history, a great campaign of population control directed at one sixth of the women in the world, enforced by governmental monitoring of menstrual periods, including inter alia forced insertion of IUDs and forced late abortion. This campaign is anti-life, anti-choice, anti-child, anti-woman – and Clinton ignored it. This was a great turning point in American policy vis-à-vis coercive population control, and a revealing update on the state of feminism. And, it seems to me, it was a chilling affirmation of the wisdom of Pope Paul’s prophetic cry.

I accept and embrace the extraordinary teaching of Pope Paul VI and the Council he led and implemented – about social justice, and about personal morality. I think he suffered as an early leader promoting a consistent life ethic.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Hospitality and nonviolence: cousins, not twins

Richard Stith is among the geniuses of the world, and I’m blessed to know him. In a letter to friends who share a consistent life approach, he wrote a preliminary response to “Gaudete et Exsultate.” It was – of course, coming from him – thought-provoking. But I’d like to respond.

Stith raised three issues. First, the exhortation seems to be a ringing endorsement of the consistent life approach; but if you measure it as such, it falls short. It puts abortion in a context of other life issues, but does not mention war and the death penalty. That’s a lot of violence to overlook, and these are odd omissions indeed if Francis intends to endorse the consistent life approach.

Second, Stith points out that when the Pope speaks about immigration and abortion together, this seems to equate intentional lethal violence with misery. Stith in no way minimizes the misery caused by restrictions on immigration; but misery is different from intentional lethal violence. So, again, the Pope’s approach is not the same as a consistent life approach.
And third, Stith is concerned that the Pope seems to accept the largely false “canard that pro-lifers do not do anything much to help out in the difficult daily lives of moms and babies after they are born.”

With regard to the third matter, it seems to me that pro-lifers have to accept that in 2018 the leadership of a substantial portion of the pro-life movement (other than the Consistent Life Network!) is untrustworthy. Millions of people continue to set aside their own ease and comfort so that they can help women and children threatened by abortion: I thank God for them, and thank them for their dedication. Nonetheless, there are criticisms of the movement as a whole that were not honest and fair 20 years ago that are honest and fair today. The Trump campaign pulled pro-lifers into an ad hoc coalition with people embracing some truly awful ideas.

With regard to the first and second issues, I agree with Stith’s argument that what the Pope is saying is not the same thing that the consistent life network is saying. But it isn’t obvious to me that the differences matter. It seems to me that abortion is a huge issue, and it’s complex enough that we consider it from a variety of different perspectives, learning from each.

From the beginning, the pro-life movement has always addressed a few issues. It has never been single-issue. Consider:

1.       Jack Willke and The Abortion Handbook
Jack Willke put abortion in a framework that included euthanasia. Abortion and euthanasia are not obviously similar: tiny and fresh versus full-sized and wrinkled; sharp lines (life begins at …) versus grey areas (the natural process of death, ordinary/extraordinary measures, who decides); deliberate lethal intervention versus deliberate non-intervention; etc. But Willke emphasized that abortion is a living person – with a beginning and end here on earth. From sperm and egg is not a continuum; it’s a change. From zygote to elderly is a continuum. From aging to corpse is not a continuum; it’s a change. Willke wanted to emphasize the value of the life of an individual, from beginning to end.

2.       The Human Life Center in Minnesota
There were many pro-life activists who emphasized that abortion is rooted in an attitude toward human sexuality. If a person accepts that sexual activity is private matter, and that its meaning for them is entirely up to them – if sex and birth drift apart in theory and in practice, with sex for fun and IVF for babies – and if we accept the apparent commonsense proposal that good fun cannot cause great damage – then abortion follows.

3.       Eagle Forum and the conservative coalition
Eagle Forum and allies often insisted that the pro-life movement should be single-issue. But when they got to work, their single issue was anti-abortion, anti-feminist, pro-nuke. This conservative coalition is still visible and vibrant, although it’s changed a smidgeon. Now it’s anti-abortion, anti-gay, pro-gun.

4.       slavery and the Holocaust
Jesse Jackson, before he turned pro-choice, said that the mentality of slavery and the mentality of abortion are the same: treating a person as a thing. It was an interesting argument, but in fact pro-life activists and civil rights activists did not build a coalition. Ask Jesse why not.

Similarly, many pro-lifers compared abortion to the Holocaust, for two reasons. First, abortion involves killing huge numbers of people while society looks on and refrains from interfering. The phrase “Never again” expresses a shared determination, but the precise focus of this determination is not quite identical among Jews and Christians. Jews often mean, “We will never let this happen to us again.” But Christians often mean, “We will never turn our backs on a slaughter again.” Second, abortion produces corpses that end up in the waste stream, or in labs, or in crematoria. Tracing the bodies to a crematorium in Alexandria is sobering. The cremation of innocent victims looks like a holocaust. However, despite the similarities that pro-lifers saw, many Jews have expressed opposition to this linkage. It never helped build an effective coalition.

5.       Consistent Life Network
The consistent life approach was championed by Juli Loesch in the early 1980s, in the organization she founded, Prolifers for Survival. It was her intention to bring pro-lifers into the Mobilization for Survival. The ideas was embraced by Cardinal Bernardin, who spoke about a “seamless garment.” And now the idea is carried forward by the Consistent Life Network. They speak for me, for sure.

6.       Pope Francis offers another angle
I hadn’t really focused on it until Stith spelled it out, but the Pope’s approach is not the same as CLN. One might say it’s about a consistent approach to hospitality.

I’ve been working for six years to link abortion and immigration. And I learned slowly that most people consider hospitality to be a decoration, like flowers on the table, not a matter of immense and eternal significance like justice and truth. Emphatically, Stith does not trivialize hospitality. He notes that what the Pope is saying isn’t exactly the same as what Loesch and Bernardin said. Okay: it’s a new approach.

The links include:
(a)    Restricting immigration and expanding abortion are major accomplishments of the eugenics movement.
(b)   Both are about hospitality to people who show up in our lives on their schedules, not ours, capable of altering our lives substantially even if inadvertently.
(c)    It is almost impossible to construct an argument for restricting immigration that isn’t also an argument for can’t be turned pretty easily into an argument for global population control. And global depopulation schemes include forced abortion. In other words, restricting immigration here leads to more abortion overseas. Recent reports of increased miscarriages among pregnant women being held for deportation are horrifying in themselves; but they are only the tip of the iceberg.
(d)   Both abortion and restricting immigration are ways to turn away from the creative initiatives of the Lord, who always cherishes us but almost always challenges us. When the uncomfortable Other shows up in our lives, it’s likely to be God. Do not be afraid! Angels always say that when they show up, because people are always scared.
(e)   Immigrants and babies change our lives – but the changes, on balance, are joyful and delightful and enriching and wonderful, now and forever.

I’m not disturbed by Stith’s comments. I think he’s right: the Pope’s links are not consistent life links. They are similar, but not the same. It’s actually something new and different. And I embrace it wholeheartedly.