Monthly Archives: April 2011

On Truth and Pope John Paul II

This weekend marks a historical event, the beatification of Pope John Paul II in Rome.  The event is historic in the remarkably short period of time in which it is taking place, a mere six years after his death in spring 2005.  It also marks the first time that a Pope (Benedict XVI) has overseen the cause for his immediate predecessor’s sainthood.

John Paul II was a truly transformational figure in that he humanized the papacy.  His charisma, his energy and zest for Christ and the Church inspired millions, and his message of the hope and freedom found in Christ Jesus left an indelible mark on the world by contributing to the break-up of the tyrannical Soviet empire and the reviving of the Church, which had fallen into decay after the tumultuous cultural clashes of the 1960s and 1970s, which saw some 45,000 priests leave the priesthood and saw Europe divorce itself, culturally and politically, from its Christian roots.

John Paul II’s death was met with cries of “Santo Subito!” (Sainthood now!) from the thousands of mourners in St. Peter’s Square and from millions of the faithful around the world whose lives he had so touched.  John Paul inspired thousands of youth to enter religious life and to defend their faith by living it out in their daily lives.  Even non-Catholics recognized this man as a leader, a peacemaker, and a man who sought to change the world for the better.

On the eve of his beatification, the media has predictably begun its assault on John Paul II’s legacy as Pope, attempting to dismiss his achievements while focusing on his mistakes, principally in regards to his handling of the sexual abuse crisis and his friendship with the founder of the Legion of Christ, Fr. Marcial Maciel Degollado, now disgraced as a criminal for his abuse of seminarians and fathering of illegitimate children.  The media of course, wants to paint John Paul II as a perpetrator of the cover-up and culture of secrecy within the Church hierarchy, when in fact he was a leader in reforming the priesthood, investigating seminaries around the world for heretical practices, unfit candidates, and general dissent from the moral and theological teachings of the Church amongst priests, bishops, and religious.

New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, had a scathing column regarding the push for John Paul’s sainthood entitled “Hold the Halo,” published in Sunday’s edition of the Old Grey Lady, America’s “Newspaper of Record.”  Dowd claims that JPII “forfeited his right to beatification when he failed to establish a legal standard to remove pedophiles from the priesthood.”  In fact, it was under John Paul that a thorough investigation of the priesthood was conducted and canonical statutes of limitations were done away with.

While the sexual abuse scandal has left a stain on the Church hierarchy, Dowd and her crowd fail to acknowledge that the actions of those in the Church do not define the Church; rather, the Church is defined by its teachings and its existence as the Body of Christ, not the criminal actions of a few wayward members of the episcopacy.  As Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York recently wrote on his blog, “it’s especially tragic when someone leaves Jesus and His Church because of a sin, scandal, or slight from a priest or bishop.  If your faith depended on us, it was misplaced to begin with.  We priests and bishops might represent Jesus and shepherd His Church, however awkwardly — but we are not Jesus and His Church.” 

Perhaps Dowd’s biggest dislike for Pope John Paul II rests not in his efficacy in handling the abuse crisis, but his adherence to the timeless teachings of the Church, which are Truth.  While praising his stands against the evils of Communism, Dowd writes, “as progressive as he was on those issues, he was disturbingly regressive on social issues- contraception, women’s ordination, divorce and remarriage.”  Dowd’s use of the word “regressive” to describe efficacious defense of Truth is misplaced.  “Regressive” implies that we had “made progress” as a Church on these moral issues, and that John Paul somehow returned us to the Middle Ages.  She posits that John Paul protected the Legion of Christ and Opus Dei because they acted as “the shock troops in John Paul’s war against Jesuits and other progressive theologians.” 

Since the cultural revolutions of a generation ago, the “shock troops” in the war for moral relativism and secularized culture devoid of any religious expression have been trying to apply political labels to an institution founded on the teachings of an eternal being, Jesus Christ, not the temporal desires of mere mortals.  It is in this distinction that these so-called “progressive Catholics” miss the boat. 

When Jesus asked us to take up our cross and follow Him, he didn’t say we were going to be skipping through a meadow having a picnic.  Jesus himself was controversial; his actions and teachings went against convention and political correctness, which is the reason he was crucified.

I am always amazed by people who call themselves “recovering Catholics.”  Many of these individuals are Baby Boomers raised on the Baltimore Catechism and taught to fear God as an angry being by nuns who never should’ve been nuns.  This goes back to Archbishop Dolan’s saying that if your faith is allowed to be formed by priests, bishops, or nuns, who are mere sinners like all of Christ’s body, your faith is misplaced.  Coincidentally, these “recovering Catholics” also tend to be obsessed with a Church they claim to want nothing to do with, claiming that the Church is “repressive” and needs to “modernize.”  I had the opportunity to sit in on two meetings of a graduate course on oppression at UNC’s School of Social Work, and was struck by the professor and the student’s fixation with the Catholic Church as a source of “oppression”, stemming from its teachings on the sanctity of life and marriage. 

Two Catholic friends of mine attend the School, and view their interest in helping the less fortunate as a calling from God and a way in which to live out their faith.  Both have told me that Christians are viewed as suspect within the School of Social Work, and that most have an anti-religious bent.  I would venture to say that these “recovering Catholics” have lots of regrets and remorse about their past, which serves as the source of their animus toward not just the Church, but to God.  We all have Truth written on our hearts, as Aquinas said.  Perhaps when we yearn for the Church to change to fit our views, we are trying to avoid admitting that we have made mistakes?  It seems, then, that we must remember that God yearns to forgive; indeed He already has forgiven us.

I am reminded that to follow Christ is not easy.  I myself struggle with the teachings of the Church often.  How do I reconcile the Church’s teaching on marriage with my friendships with individuals who are gay or lesbian?  If I accept Church teaching, do I betray my friendship and love for my friends who happen to be gay?  Can I stand for life, even when that life is a result of a crime, such as rape or incest, despite the fear of being painted as unreasonable, or anti-woman?  I, like many Catholics, I suspect, constantly juggle the temporal and the eternal, the faith and the tainted culture in which we live.  It’s a journey, full of ups and downs, triumphs and failures, revisions and more revisions.  I am comforted in knowing that though these teachings may sometimes be hard to swallow, it is Truth-with a 2011 year history.  I am constantly evolving and asking how best to follow the example of Christ.

What keeps me going is the knowledge that while we are all sinners and we all experience periods of uncertainty, sadness, and feelings of failure, the Church is a rock, an anchor, a constant on which we can always depend on to remain the same as we navigate a world of change.  It is comforting to know that though my children will grow up in a world radically different from the world I grew up in, I will be able to impart to them the same Truth my parents taught me and their parents before them.  Truth is not politically correct, it is not malleable, and it is not handed down on the whims of men.  As such, defense of Truth, as in John Paul’s case, is not a cause for ridicule, but for admiration.

If the Church were dependent on the actions of men, it would’ve been dead on arrival.  St. Peter, the first Pope, denied Jesus three times!  And yet he went on to shepherd Christ’s Church!  While John Paul might have done more to combat the “filth in the priesthood,” as Benedict XVI so rightly coined it, to make his shortcomings cloud his contributions to the world is to diminish a man who arguably changed the course of history, and most definitely inspired an entire generation.  Lay faithful, religious, priests, bishops, popes, and even saints are sinners.  Only Jesus was without blemish.  So while those who wish to turn the world into a relativistic cesspool will spend the weekend fuming over John Paul’s beatification, I will be watching the ceremony, and praying that I, a sinner, might be granted mercy and the grace to follow Christ, like John Paul did so well.  Santo Subito!

The Real Story Behind the Battle to Defund Planned Parenthood

Watching the apocalyptic debate over the averted government shutdown last week, one would rightly think that one party was crying wolf over our fiscal mess so they could relegate the poor and the undesirable to the dark alleys of the streets and the other party was saying, “what mess? This is just about abortion!  You evil, women-hating pro-lifers, you!”

The media narrative was that Republicans had come to town not to change Washington’s course (assuming that’s even plausible), but to “kill women,” as Representative Louise Slaughter (D., N.Y.) put it.  Republicans campaigned on the issue of a need to rein in a government that had become to expensive and unmanageable.  Pledging to cut $61 Billion in discretionary spending out of a nearly $4 trillion budget, Republicans tried to cut funding for the nation’s largest provider of abortions, Planned Parenthood, a non-profit that manages to post profits, donate to political candidates, and avoid paying taxes.  Try doing that as a church.

Lila Rose, a young, pro-life activist who went undercover to expose the illicit practices of Planned Parenthood clinics around the country, caused a stir in January when her organization, Live Action, exposed video of Planned Parenthood advising a man posing as a pimp on how to obtain abortions for teen prostitutes while avoiding the suspicion or involvement of law enforcement.  When the “pimp” offered that the girl was 15, the Planned Parenthood employee responded that she didn’t need to know how old the girl was.

Naturally, Fox News, being the only “agenda-driven” news outlet in the country, was the only network that covered the expose.   The mainstream media largely ignored the fact that the videos were only the latest evidence of Planned Parenthood’s long history of law-evading practices when it comes to minors.  Emboldened by their recent electoral gains, pro-life members of Congress seized the latest evidence to remove all federal support for Planned Parenthood, first in a stand-alone bill, H.R. 3, and then as a rider to the budget proposal for FY 2011, which should’ve been passed in August 2010 by the prior Congress.  Abortion proponents pounced, saying that the elimination of funds for Planned Parenthood would pose health risks for poor women, citing that in addition to contraception and abortions, Planned Parenthood provides affordable preventive care such as mammograms, cervical cancer screenings, pap smears, and breast exams.    Not missing a chance to criticize the “misogynist” U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops, the abortion rights movement threw the book at the Church for supporting the elimination of federal funds for the nation’s largest abortion provider.

With budget negotiations down to the wire, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) accused Speaker John Boehner and his GOP majority of being willing to shut down the federal government for the first time since 1995 in order to “throw women under the bus.”  The media naturally ran with the tired old “Conservatives and pro-lifers are anti-woman” narrative, which won the day.   Late Friday evening, Boehner and Reid announced a last-minute budget deal  that would cut $38.5 billion from the current FY budget, which we are 6 months into, in exchange for dropping the social policy riders.  The media celebrated the victory, praising Boehner for dropping his “crusade against women” to keep the lights on in Washington.

Just when you think the story is over, the Wall Street Journal‘s William McGurn reported Tuesday that according to anonymous sources present at last week’s meeting between the President and Messrs. Boehner and Reid, Obama was the man who refused to negotiate on funding for Planned Parenthood, saying, “Nope. Zero. This is it, John.”   Perhaps instead of the media narrative characterizing the Republicans as willing to shut the government down in order to “throw women under the bus,” there’s an alternate narrative: President Obama and his supporters in Congress were willing to shut the government down rather than cut Planned Parenthood’s federal funding.  Maybe the President is the ideologue here.  In Obama’s effort to appear “above the fray,” his past statements as Senator and presidential candidate show that he is unequivocally supportive of government funding for abortions, as is evident by his party’s refusal to attach the long-standing Hyde Amendment, prohibiting government funding of abortions, to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA).

McGurn further noted that while Planned Parenthood asserts that abortion constitutes a small part of the services they offer, their own data shows that over 97% of pregnant women they treat receive abortions from Planned Parenthood, meaning that less than 3% of women that go to Planned Parenthood’s clinics are there for prenatal care or preventive services.  Did I mention Planned Parenthood and founder Margaret Sanger’s historic support of abortion to advance eugenics, which is the systematic elimination of populations society deems “undesirable,” including the disabled, racial minorities, and the poor women whose services they claim to provide?  Or that Planned Parenthood’s Political Action Fund spent more than $443,000 in support pro-choice candidates in the 2010 election cycle?   And yet, no one is threatening to take away their tax-exempt status.  Conversely, abortion and gay rights supporters have been trying to strip the Catholic Church of their non-profit status for years, yet, unlike Planned Parenthood, they do not receive federal funds or make monetary contributions to political candidates; they’re simply telling the congregation what the Church teaches on these issues. 

Preventive care for poor women is a laudable cause.  However, Planned Parenthood’s claim that none of their federal funds go to abortions is not credible, given the fungible nature of money.  Plenty of crisis pregnancy centers provide prenatal and preventive gynecological care, and yet the pro-choicers would have a fit if these organizations received federal funds.  New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg just signed an ordinance requiring crisis pregnancy centers in New York to post multiple signs alerting patients that as crisis pregnancy centers, they do not provide or refer patients for abortions or contraception.  Bloomberg invited opponents to challenge the law in court, indicating that the ordinance may well be unconstitutional, but that by signing it, he was doing what he “thinks is right.”  There goes the argument that pro-choice does not mean pro-abortion.  Why else would you require these organizations to post such signs, other than to discourage women from hearing about pro-life options?

Abortion rights is one of the most divisive issues in our nation, drawing passionate feelings from both sides of the debate.  When an organization has declared its mission to be the protection of a woman’s “right to choose” or, more bluntly, to kill her child, no matter what the reason behind the choice, that organization has no place receiving public funds, especially when money is tight and the country is headed for fiscal disaster.  If we want to be supportive of poor women and help them raise their children, why not pay a living wage and provide federal dollars to crisis pregnancy centers?

Back to the World after a hiatus

What an interesting year it has been!  A move to Maine, a job at Maine Med, a failed relationship-and out of all of it, personal growth and maturation.  Though I am unexpectedly back in NC, it appears it is for some greater purpose yet unbeknownst to me.  Time will tell.

Now that I have time on my hands and a renewed desire to comment on events occurring in the world, in life, and in the Church, I hope to use this space to contribute to a more informed debate about a myriad of issues.