CatholiCity 2007

Has James Dobson Created an Opening for Mitt Romney?

Deal W. Hudson
October 8, 2007

Mitt Romney is seizing the opportunity created by Dr. James Dobson’s threat of a third party candidacy. The Massachusetts poll is positioning himself as the GOP candidate of choice for religious conservatives.

How? In a Boston Globe story from October 5, Eric Fehrnstrom, a spokesman for the Romney campaign, said, “Dr. Dobson is keeping an open mind on Mitt Romney, and I think this is because they do share in common so many values.”

In short, Romney wants to portray himself as the only major candidate with Dobson’s approval still in the running.

Dr. Dobson didn’t take the bait. The Boston Globe reporter, Michael Kranish, called Dobson to get a comment on the campaign statement, but he did not return the call.

No one can blame Romney for trying to fill in the vacuum created by Dobson’s negative comments on nearly all the GOP candidates. After all, Dobson has said nothing critical about Romney himself, only that Evangelicals would not be likely to vote for a Mormon.

“I don’t believe that conservative Christians in large numbers will vote for a Mormon, but that remains to be seen, I guess,” Dobson said on a national radio show October 2, 2006.

The signs are not good that Dobson will back Romney. Dobson’s attempt in Salt Lake City to rally other religious leaders to a third party cause came the day after Romney spoke to the same group.

If Dobson had been favorably impressed, he would not have carried through with his plan to lead his colleagues out of the GOP for the 2008 election.

By addressing Dobson publicly, the Romney campaign is taking a huge risk. Fehrnstrom argued that Dobson and Romney “may not agree on theology, but they share in common values like protecting the sanctity of life.”

This is a problematic issue for the Romney campaign to raise with pro-lifers like Dobson and other members of the Council on National Policy. Not only is Romney’s pro-life commitment of a recent vintage, it remains inconsistent on the very important issue of embryonic stem cell research.

Romney still supports research on “unwanted” or “discarded” frozen embryos from fertility clinics. He does draw the line at creating human clones for stem cell research.

As Rev. Tadeusz Pacholczyk, an ethicist with the National Catholic Bioethics Center in Philadelphia has stated, “Any position that throws open the door to using the frozen embryos is going to be a position that Catholics and many other Christians will not be able to stand behind in any way.”

Romney and his campaign understand the apparent inconsistency in his position. Rev. Pacholczyk himself, and a number of other well-known Catholic pro-lifers have already discussed this issue with the Romney campaign.

It isn’t very likely that Dr. Dobson will take a pragmatic view of Romney’s position for the simple reason that the bulk of embryonic stem cell research derives its material from frozen embryos.

Thus, to be for embryonic stem cell research on frozen embryos and against it on human clones is effectively to be for embryonic stem cell research, because that’s how it’s presently being done.

In spite of the risk, the Romney campaign has asked Dr. Dobson to take another look at their candidate before pursuing the third party strategy.

This is a potent issue for religious conservatives. You may recall that Sen. Bill Frist (R-TN) was considered the leading GOP presidential contender until he went on the Senate floor on July 29, 2005, to challenge President Bush’s restriction on federal funding for stem cell research.

Within forty-eight hours, Sen. Frist’s chances of a successful run for the nomination had evaporated. Religious conservatives felt betrayed and said so.

Mitt Romney has invited closer scrutiny from Dr. Dobson – whether Dobson will take the opportunity to criticize Romney on embryonic stem cells – as he has Fred Thompson for not supporting a federal marriage amendment – remains to be seen.

It’s a bold move from a candidate whose outreach to religious conservatives has been methodical and determined from the very beginning.

High Noon at College of the Holy Cross

Deal W. Hudson
October 15, 2007

The Jesuit College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts, is in trouble.

Bishop Robert J McManus, S.T.D., issued a statement on October 10th warning President Michael McFarland, S.J., that the official Catholic status of Holy Cross was at risk.

The reason for the showdown? On October 24, representatives of both Planned Parenthood and NARAL are scheduled to speak on campus as part of a “Teen Pregnancy Conference” sponsored by the Massachusetts Alliance on Teen Pregnancy.

This could be historic – a clash that has been decades in coming between a bishop and a Jesuit college. Remember, even Jesuit colleges receive their “Catholic” status from the local bishop.

“No university, even if it is, in fact, Catholic, may bear the title ‘Catholic University’ except by the consent of the competent ecclesiastical authority” (Code of Canon Law 808). The “competent authority” within each diocese is the bishop.

Holy Cross is renting space to the Massachusetts Alliance on Teen Pregnancy for the conference, and President McFarland responded to Bishop McManus by saying Holy Cross has “contractual obligations” and cannot cancel the conference or dictate its speakers. (Sorry, but Holy Cross had plenty of time to cancel the conference. A spokesman for the diocese, Raymond L. Delisle, said the bishop had a number of discussions with Father McFarland over the past two weeks.)

The Holy Cross statement also included the following:

The college believes a meeting of adult professionals pooling resources, engaging in a dialogue and exchanging information is a beneficial way of grappling with pressing issues related to the health and well-being of Massachusetts teenagers and children.

When October 24 arrives and the Holy Cross Jesuits have not acted in accord with the statement of Bishop McManus, a domino effect may begin toward the official secularization of Jesuit institutions in the United States, beginning in Massachusetts.

Will Father McFarland lead his school out of the Catholic Church? He’s already remembered for defending the honorary degree awarded to Chris Matthews in 2003, in spite of Matthew’s explicit comments about being “pro-choice.”

Bishop McManus’s warning doesn’t sound like an idle threat:

It is my fervent wish that the administration of the College of the Holy Cross will unequivocally dissociate itself from the upcoming conference… so that the college can continue to be recognized as a Catholic institution committed to promoting the moral teaching of the Roman Catholic Church.

Like so many Catholic colleges inviting their students to embrace “the dialogue” of the virtues of abortion, Holy Cross alumni are dividing on the issue. John P. Hamill, chairman of the college’s board of advisers, commented, “I find it very hard to understand why this is an issue of great concern after six years.” (As it turns out, NARAL and Planned Parenthood had been guests on the campus for the previous five years.)

Vic Melfa, a Holy Cross alumnus, class of 1957, is co-founder and president of the Holy Cross Cardinal Newman Society. “It’s a great concern to me because the group that’s sponsoring the conference is diametrically opposed to Catholic teaching on life. President McFarland should have said ‘no.'”

If this clash does reach ahead, it will be the direct result of a document signed in 1967 at the Land O’Lakes Conference organized by then-president of the University of Notre Dame, Rev. Theodore Hesburgh, C.S.C.

The opening statement of the document set the wheels in the motion for a sea change in Catholic colleges and universities:

The Catholic University today must be a university in the full modern sense… To perform its teaching and research functions effectively the Catholic university must have a true autonomy and academic freedom in the face of authority of whatever kind, lay or clerical, external to the academic community itself (Emphasis added).

Now, forty years later, Bishop McManus has challenged the heart of the Land O’ Lakes statement (one of the signatories was the president of the Catholic University of Puerto Rico, the former-Right Rev. Theodore E. McCarrick).

Will the local bishop and Canon 808 prevail over the Jesuit president and the Land O’ Lakes document? We shall see.

Birth Control Pills to Be Distributed to 6th Graders

Deal W. Hudson
October 18, 2007

Bishop Richard J. Malone is “outraged” about the decision of the Portland, Maine, school board to make birth control pills available to 6th-, 7th-, and 8th-grade girls at King Middle School. On Wednesday, the Portland School Committee voted 5-2 to make contraceptive pills available to girls, ages 11 to 13, at the student health center.

What makes this decision even more unbelievable is that the girls can receive the pills without parental permission. Students are required to have a parent’s permission to go to the health center, but subsequent treatment is confidential.

In other words, it’s up to the student to notify her parents about any treatment she receives. (It seems pretty unlikely that a daughter would come home from 6th grade and say to her parents, “Hey, Mom and Dad, I went on the pill today.”)

The only way parents can make sure their daughter does not receive contraceptives is by signing a statement barring them from using the school’s health service entirely.

In other words, families have to give up the medical services paid for by their tax money in order to protect their children from being given medical intervention that contradicts their religious beliefs.

A wrongheaded solution

Condoms have been made available at King Middle School since 2002. As it turns out, that’s not unusual. “About one-fourth of student health centers that serve at least one grade of adolescents 11 and older dispense some form of contraception,” said Divya Mohan, a spokeswoman for the National Assembly on School-Based Health Care.

Proponents of the new Portland policy argue that many parents don’t act to “protect” their sexually active children. Only five of the 134 students who visited King’s health center during the 2006-07 school year reported having had sexual intercourse.

Rita Feeney, president of Maine Right to Life, commented: “This is the traditional doublespeak of people and organizations who claim they would counsel young children to avoid early sexual activity but then actively assist them in participating in risky behaviors, they say, because they’re going to do it anyway.”

Peter Doyle, a former middle school teacher, said the proposal violates the rights of parents, potentially ignoring their special knowledge of their children’s health, and puts young girls at risk of cancer from too early use of hormone-based contraceptives.

“You all are going to be responsible for the devastating effects on young women when this goes through,” he told the Associated Press.

Brian Gail, a Catholic writer from Philadelphia, is hosting a symposium on the dangers of contraception at this year’s Catholic Leadership Conference to be held in Charleston, South Carolina, October 25-26. Gail organized the CLC symposium because he predicted the pervasive contraceptive mentality would result in decisions like that of the Portland school board.

Sadly, Gail’s forecast came true just one week before the start of the symposium.

Gail told the Window, “The decision to provide hormonal contraceptives to middle school children defies incredulity. Last year the Mayo Clinic published the results of a comprehensive study which concluded that young women who use the pill for eight years before their first full-term pregnancy are 36 percent more likely to contract breast cancer later in life.”

Bishop Malone issued a formal statement later in the day. We can only hope his outrage will translate into a reversal of the school board decision. It’s absolutely unacceptable to exclude parents from the medical attention given to their children. It’s contrary to nature, and it should be contrary to law.

Will Homosexuality Soon Be Promoted By Law?

Deal W. Hudson
October 22, 2007

This week the U.S. House of Representatives will very likely vote to add “sexual orientation” as a category of persons legally protected from discrimination. If passed, H.R. 3685, the Employment Nondiscrimination Act (ENDA), will mean that homosexuals can bring lawsuits against employers they feel have discriminated against them because of their sexual orientation.

Although religious organizations are declared exempt, the bill, sponsored by Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA), still poses a threat to religious liberty because of differing state definitions of what organizations are religious.

Sexual orientation, by its very nature, is a private matter. But unlike other protected categories – race, religion, national origin, sex, pregnancy, age, disability – it’s a subjective term.

ENDA will practically require employers to ask about the sexual orientation of their employees. As a senior member of the Bush administration told me, “Your sexual orientation is whatever you say it is. If this bill passes, employers would be encouraged to discuss sexual orientation with employees, something that most people think is inappropriate.”

Jim Kelly, a religious liberty attorney in Atlanta, pointed out the further impact this bill could have on corporate culture: “Inevitably, a corporation will find itself in the position of having to fire an ineffective gay or lesbian employee. To avoid lawsuits for doing so, corporations will act preemptively to prove they are gay-friendly. Their lawyers and human-resource directors will insist that they meet self-imposed hiring quotas and promote gay and lesbian activities and foundations.”

And ENDA doesn’t apply solely to hiring, promotion, or firing decisions. It includes discrimination “against any individual with respect to the compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment of the individual, because of such individual’s actual or perceived sexual orientation” (emphasis added).

In other words, corporations will be in the business of promoting homosexual culture and lifestyles. As Kelly puts it, “To avoid lawsuits, corporations will be working overtime to create a positive environment for gays and lesbians. Everything from company benefit offerings to corporate publications and employee parties will have to be choreographed to portray sensitivity to sexual orientation.”

Kelly went on to explain that, once these lawsuits are brought against employers for discrimination in hiring, the plaintiff’s attorney will ask questions like, “What did you do to promote the gay and lesbian lifestyle in your organization?” “Where is gay pride day?” “Why don’t you extend health benefits to partners?” “Why don’t you support your local gay and lesbian advocacy group?” “How many of your executives and board members are gay or lesbian?”

Once corporations are required to create gay and lesbian-friendly environments, religious liberty will be compromised. People of faith who believe that homosexual acts are sinful will be discouraged from saying it out loud. Catholics, who are taught to view homosexuality as an “objective disorder,” will have to keep that opinion to themselves.

Christians may, in fact, be viewed as possessing an animus toward gays and lesbians by virtue of their orthodox beliefs.

The senior member of the Bush administration put it this way: “ENDA would inhibit religious speech. Discrimination law works like this: If persons in a soup kitchen start talking critically about the gay lifestyle, homosexuals will feel unwelcome and could sue the employer. The net effect is to attack the core of religious liberty: right of self determination and association.”

ENDA is another example of the political left using the law as a tool for social change. There is no doubt that it puts orthodox Catholics at risk of being accused of creating a hostile working environment for gays and lesbians.

Even though ENDA exempts religious organizations from compliance, the very definition of “religious” remains ambiguous and tricky to apply uniformly across all 50 states. It’s almost a certainty that these exempted organizations would be caught up in a web of expensive lawsuits, initiated and coordinated by gay activists, simply to prove their religious identity.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed to create much-needed protection for African-Americans after more than a century of discrimination. The other protected groups – including gender, nationality, and disability – are objective and do not require an invasion of privacy to determine.

President Bush has stated that he is opposed to employer discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation; it is rumored that the White House assisted in hammering out the final version of H.R. 3685. ENDA will probably be put on the president’s desk in the next month.

Let’s hope the Congress and president look at the religious and cultural ramifications of making ENDA into law. This Act will give gay and lesbian groups a very sharp sword to wage in the culture wars.

Why the Democrats Are Blue – A Conversation with Mark Stricherz

Deal W. Hudson
October 25, 2007

How did the Democratic Party lose the support of the working-class and Catholic voters who were once its stronghold? In his book Why the Democrats Are Blue: How Secular Liberals Hijacked the People’s Party, Mark Stricherz argues that the change from the “people’s party” to a party of secular-elite values can be traced to a particular political moment – and one that few people would think. Deal W. Hudson sat down with Stricherz to talk about what he calls “the greatest untold story in American politics.”

♦ ♦ ♦

Deal W. Hudson: Mark, what led you to write this book?

Mark Stricherz: Well, it started when you asked me to write a story about pro-life Democrats in January 2002, and I took you up on the offer. In the course of my research, I discovered one of the main reasons why the Democratic Party changed from the New Deal Democratic era, when white Southern Protestants and Northern Catholics ran the party, to the party it is today.

DH: Tell me about your family background and its political allegiances.

MS: I grew up in the Bay area in the 1970s and 1980s, and saw the difference between the members of my own family – traditional Catholics trying to help the poor and vulnerable – and the values of the people in the San Francisco Bay area: upper-class, secular people who didn’t seem to share the same values. But those secular people seemed to be in charge of the public Democratic Party.

DH: You describe in your book the principal reasons why the Democratic Party changed from what you call the “people’s party” to what it is today. Is McGovern the man to blame primarily?

MS: No, although he does bear some responsibility for it. It was really the staff on his commission – Ken Bode, the research director; Eli Segal, the commission counsel; Fred Dutton, who was treasurer on the commission; and Anne Wexler – those are the four main people who decided they were going to take the commission in an entirely new direction, completely contrary to its original purpose to democratize the selection of the party’s presidential nominee.

DH: Explain what the McGovern Commission was.

MS: The McGovern Commission was set up at the 1968 Democratic National Convention to democratize the party’s nomination process. The 1968 Democratic primaries had been bogged down by charges that young voters were excluded from participating in state conventions. So in the convention that year, the delegates narrowly approved a measure to try to change that. They basically had to scrap the old party-boss nomination system, which gave the state and local leaders the power to choose the delegates.

DH: Was McGovern aware at the time of how his commission had been hijacked along lines that, I assume, he didn’t approve of?

MS: That’s a good question. I can’t really determine McGovern’s own private state; he did vote for one of the more damaging rule changes, which was to require implied delegate quotas for women and young people, which is completely contrary to the idea of democratizing the process. So he does bear that share of the blame; he should have stepped in.

DH: So the primary difference between what the commission was trying to do and what it actually did was set up the quota system, and you think the quota system – based upon groups defined by sex and so on – that’s really what opened the door to the ideological changes of the party?

MS: Yes, that was the principal change. The second shift would have been the introduction of the caucus system, which rewards ideological activists at the expense of regular voters.

But yes, the implied quotas for delegates were important, as the leaders of the McGovern Commission were aware. They knew they were going to get a result: All they wanted to do was get an anti-war nominee in 1972. The main issue of 1968 was the passing of the peace plank, which failed. And these leaders of the McGovern Commission, who were all anti-war, wanted to prevent what happened in 1968 from ever happening again. They wanted to ensure that the peace plank was passed in 1972 and that they’d get an anti-war nominee.

DH: So how did the quota system and the caucus system lead to the changes in the Democratic Party, particularly in relation to its position on life issues and the role of religion in politics?

MS: The short answer is that ideological activists controlled the nomination process: They, rather than big city and state leaders – who have a larger constituency – were choosing the nominee. It used to be, in the old boss system, that the bosses wanted to pick a nominee based on his ability to win.

The activists were looking for a nominee who could win, sure. But they also had ideological preferences. Back in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the folks who were true believers tended to be feminists and anti-war types. It was a totally different constituency from the old Democratic Party of Catholics, blacks, union members, etc.

DH: Were the old party bosses that were replaced by these activists Catholic? Is this the ethnic Catholic group that was replaced?

MS: Yes, they were almost all Catholic. It’s shocking today to look back at some of the old newspapers of the time, but in 1968 the chairman of the DNC, John Bailey; the chairman of the platform committee, Hale Boggs from Louisiana; the chairman of the credentials committee, Richard Hughes from New Jersey; the kingmaker at the 1968 Democratic National Convention, Richard Dailey, were all Roman Catholics. And that had been true since 1948 when Catholics took over the machinery. They were in charge; Southerners had played a large role in party affairs before 1948, but the party from 1948 to 1968 was controlled by white Catholics, especially Irish Catholics.

DH: When people talk about the changes in the Democratic Party on life issues and religion, they usually point to the 1992 convention that nominated Bill Clinton and the refusal to let Gov. Bob Casey speak there. That’s 20 years between 1972 and 1992. Weren’t there other important watershed events that led to the Casey moment?

MS: Yes. The key event was really the McGovern Commission in 1969, adding implied quotas for female delegates. The percentage of female delegates went from 13 percent in 1968 to 43 percent by 1972. The second big event happened in 1980 when feminists succeeded in getting a measure that required half of all delegates to be female. So if you were running as a delegate from your county or congressional district, one out of two of you had to be female. This was not done in the interests of equality; this was done because the feminists had an agenda. They wanted abortion on demand; they wanted to get the Equal Rights Amendment passed; they wanted to control the platform.

DH: So the women who came in were ideologically aligned and didn’t necessarily represent the women of the party, much less the women of the United States. After that, what were some of the other watershed events that manifested the changes inside the party?

MS: Well, they’re not changes so much as results of the 1969 and 1980 requirements. In 1984, for example, feminists demanded and got a woman on the national ticket, Geraldine Ferraro. In 1992, feminists were basically exercising a veto power over anyone trying to reach the national stage, in that case, Bob Casey. They exercised veto power over the platform; there was no dissent at all.

I’m not a Republican, but by contrast, pro-choicers in the Republican Party are treated quite well; they run for president in 1996 and 2008, and Giuliani has a shot at winning it (though I don’t think he will). There’s no counterpart in the Democratic Party where a social conservative is going to do that.

DH: What’s the inside story of why and how Casey was denied a speaking opportunity at the 1992 convention?

MS: Basically, feminists decided that they felt threatened by a popular governor from the state and decided to roll him. The key leaders were the heads of the abortion rights groups – NARAL, Kate Michelman, Gloria Steinem, Bella Abzug, and another group that’s not well-known, the National Women’s Political Caucus, which had been essential in giving feminists not only a political voice but helping shepherd them into the Democratic Party.

As a sign of this, on the very morning that Bob Casey was prevented from speaking, Bill Clinton gave a talk at the NWPC meeting and said that he thought it important that our next president is pro-choice. That shows the power that they have.

DH: When did the Democratic platform begin espousing the pro-abortion plank?

MS: The short answer is 1980 when they voted for taxpayer-funded abortions. Earlier, in 1976, the party had come out against a constitutional amendment on Roe. So basically the party had taken the pro-choice side, although coming out against a constitutional amendment on Roe leaves lots of wiggle room in the party, and there were lots of pro-lifers in the party in 1976. But 1980 is the big date.

DH: What role do you think Jimmy Carter played in this story?

MS: That requires a more nuanced answer. On the one hand, Carter opposed a constitutional amendment against Roe. If he had been a true pro-lifer, as he claims now that he always was, he would have come out for it; he would have fought as hard as he could to show that the Democratic Party was the party of the little guy. But he and his people didn’t do that. So on that score, he was not a true pro-lifer by any conventional definition.

On the other hand, Carter enacted a lot of pro-life measures, and he did fight the feminists to some extent. For example, feminists wanted taxpayer-funded abortions in 1976, and he was against that and put his foot down. And as president, Carter did more for the pro-life side than Gerald Ford had done, frankly. He eliminated the majority of Medicaid funding for abortion, which had begun in 1973; Ford didn’t do anything about it. Carter’s to be congratulated about that. He was playing both sides of the fence to some extent, but his goodness has probably not been acknowledged.

DH: What really surprised you that you discovered in the course of researching and writing this book?

MS: I think two things. One is the extent to which Catholics controlled the presidential wing of the party. You look at these old newspapers, and it’s all Catholics leading these committees, commissions, the party posts. You never hear about that.

The second thing is that the press has really missed the Catholic and feminist angle. The feminists never get called on the fact that they control the platform and have had nothing but poor results – not just morally, but politically.

DH: Does Hillary Clinton represent the legacy of that feminist wing?

MS: Yes, she’s the pragmatic side of that movement. In 1968, she was an outsider in the party. She worked for McCarthy, but she also interned for a Republican congressman. Yet, by 2008, she’ll probably be the next Democratic presidential nominee. One of her key tenets is abortion on demand. And, of course, she also supports the welfare state, and she’s a moderate – maybe even leaning conservative – on foreign policy, unlike many of the feminists. But she’s the champion of the feminist movement, whether she’s recognized as such or not.

DH: A few days ago, her religious outreach director sent out an e-mail to Catholics, urging them to sign up to be supporters for Hillary Clinton. How successful do you think that will be?

MS: I don’t think it’s going to be successful. The social issue has been killing Democrats since 1968; it’s going to hurt her. I think she will get, like her husband or Al Gore, maybe half the Catholic vote – best case scenario.

But she’s smart to have this religious outreach advisor talking to Catholics about certain issues that haven’t been approached in the past. It’s been a long time since the Democrats showed such an effort, even though it’s based on a lot of false premises and bad values.

DH: Do you think that if Hillary becomes the nominee, the Democratic Party is really going to open its arms to born-again Christians, pro-life Christians – people who think the social issues are the most important?

MS: The short answer is no; it’s all just rhetoric. Democratic politicians are getting their cues from party strategists who are telling them to concede the rhetoric – that abortion is bad, cloning is bad, gay marriage is bad – but when push comes to shove, the policy is never really going to change. It’s naive to think that it will after 35 years.

What has to happen is a new group in society will have to take power from them. The secular professionals who took over the party in the late 1960s and early 1970s were well aware that power is not handed to you; you take it from people. Now which group this will be, it’s hard to say. One candidate would probably be Hispanics or born-again Christians who become politically savvy – it’s hard to say. But the group who runs the party now is going to stay in charge as long as they can.

DH: Do you foresee a time in the near future when a truly pro-life Democrat will have a national role in the Democratic Party?

MS: It’s possible. It would take somebody with the stature of Tim Roemer, respected former member of Congress and member of the 9/11 Commission, to sacrifice his political career and run for the presidency. I don’t know how he would play it – whether he’d want to run as an explicit pro-lifer, as Casey wanted to do in 1996, or just downplay the issue.

But it will take somebody with bravery and guts, and the Democrats have been waiting since 1972 when Ed Muskie ran on a pro-life platform – 36 years, that’s a long time. I don’t see it happening anytime soon.

Over Eighty American Catholic Leaders Urge Support of Humanae Vitae

Deal W. Hudson
October 29, 2007

Over 80 national Catholic leaders, meeting October 25-26, adopted a statement celebrating the upcoming 40th anniversary of Humanae Vitae and predicted the “Church will regain Her voice… and will once again boldly proclaim to all mankind that children are the solution, not the problem.”

At its 10th annual meeting in Charleston, SC, the Catholic Leadership Conference unanimously adopted, “Humanae Vitae at 40: Why the Church Lost the Battle; How She Will Win the War.” The statement calls the July 28, 2008 anniversary of the papal encyclical on human life “an extraordinary teaching moment for the universal Church.”

A panel discussion of contraception discussed the resistance within the Church to the teaching of Humanae Vitae. Popular lecturer and writer, Christopher West, underlined the importance of the following line from the statement: “A lingering spirit of Puritanism in the culture had infected the Church, muting her voice on the glorious gift and transcendent mission of human sexuality.”

West, an expert on John Paul II’s “Theology of the Body,” believes that Catholics, especially in the U.S., are simply not aware of their Puritan distrust of the body that contradicts Catholic teaching on the unity of the human person.

Fr. Frank Pavone, president of Priests for Life, reminded CLC attendees of the widespread dissent against the teaching on contraception. As the statement summarizes the response: “Too few bishops taught it, too few priests preached it, too few laity lived it.”

Brian Gail, the moderator of the panel, believes the “Theology of the Body” will become the heart of a “New Evangelization” that will address the individual and social problems caused by two generations relying on the pill to embrace the sexual revolution.

As the statement boldly puts it, “John Paul II’s ‘Theology of the Body,’ which has been likened to a theological time bomb, will detonate in our time.”

CLC participants strongly affirmed the statement’s commitment to integrating John Paul II’s teaching on marriage and sexuality into Catholic education at every level, especially “into existing teen chastity, Pre Cana, RCIA, and other engagement and marriage renewal programs.”

The focus on contraception came at an interesting moment for CLC because of the national media coverage of the decision of the Portland, Maine school board to offer contraceptives to middle-school students, ages 11 to 14. (In the wake of the coverage and the ensuing outrage, members of the school board have been back-pedaling on the decision.)

No one at CLC expressed surprise at the Portland decision. Many who spoke told of how the “contraceptive mentality” was affecting the lives of their children and the public institutions in their communities.

Brian Gail believes the struggle against contraception is far from over, even though recent medical research is revealing the dangers of it. For example, he cited a Mayo Clinic study showing that 36% of women who use hormonal contraception for a minimum of eight years prior to their first full term pregnancy will develop breast cancer.

Gail further notes the rise in sexually transmitted diseases, increased sterilization, and the drop in the birth rate among U.S. Catholics from 5.5 in 1960 to 2.1. He thinks this lower birth rate is not unrelated to the downward trend in the number of seminarians during the same period (from 50,000 to 5,000).

Compare these statistics to the 1% divorce rate among U.S. couples who use natural family planning to space children, and you see why Gail is optimistic that the wisdom of Humanae Vitae will one day be recognized.

That day may arrive sooner than we think. As Robert Novak reported on October 25, in “A New Front in the Abortion Wars,” a group of anti-abortion leaders have sent a letter to all members of Congress asking them to suspend more than $300 million of federal funds for Planned Parenthood.

Planned Parenthood is the defendant in a major lawsuit in Kansas alleging “unlawful late-term abortions,” “unlawful failure to determine viability for late-term abortions,” “making false information,” and “unlawful failure to maintain records.”

The defunding of Planned Parenthood would be a historic setback to this nation’s leading broker of contraception and abortion. Indeed, it may be that in Kansas we see the first successful battle in what the CLC statement calls “an epic war for the family and civilization.”

You can download the complete Catholic Leadership Conference statement here.

Muzzling the Bishops With “Civility”

Deal W. Hudson
November 9, 2007

On Tuesday, a group of Catholics in Washington, D.C. issued a statement calling for a greater “spirit of civility” as Americans approach the 2008 presidential elections. When I saw the title of the statement – “A Catholic Call to Civility in Public Debate” – I thought, what a great idea!

Then I read it, and I was puzzled and disappointed.

I agree wholeheartedly with the statement’s call to avoid “attacks on private conduct.” But then I came to the following line:

Others, for political and even ecclesiastical reasons, seek the public embarrassment of politicians whose public positions differ with Church teachings through the public refusal of the sacrament of Holy Communion or public admonition by the Bishops.

What “others” did these signers have in mind? Our Holy Father, Benedict XVI, issued a warning to pro-abortion politicians on May 9, 2007, saying that Catholic politicians who support a proposed law allowing women to have abortions in Mexico City no longer deserve to receive Communion.

Excommunication, the Holy Father said, is “not something arbitrary. It is part of the [canon law] code. It is based simply on the principle that the killing of an innocent human child is incompatible with going in Communion with the body of Christ” (USA Today).

His words were so clear that Mayor Rudy Giuliani – then a newly announced presidential candidate – was forced to take a reporter’s question on the pope’s comment. “I do not get into debates with the pope,” he wisely said.

But he added, “Issues like that, for me, are between me and my confessor” (New York Daily News).

In other words, it’s a “private matter.” Is this what the signers of the statement had in mind when they condemned public attacks on “private conduct”? Is “private conduct” code language for a politician’s view on abortion?

Only a month after the pope’s comments, Giuliani’s pro-abortion stance was publicly criticized by Bishop Thomas J. Tobin (Providence, RI). Bishop Tobin compared Giuliani to Pontius Pilate in the diocesan newspaper:

As Catholics, we are called, indeed required, to be pro-life, to cherish and protect human life as a precious gift of God from the moment of conception until the time of natural death… I can just hear Pilate saying,”You know, I’m personally opposed to crucifixion but I don’t want to impose my belief on others.”

Is this an example of the incivility that this statement condemns?

If so, are the bishops being asked to be “kinder and gentler” toward pro-abortion Catholic politicians? Or are they being asked to say nothing about them at all?

Trying to prevent another Kerry?

It’s obvious to everyone, including the reporter from the Catholic News Service, that this statement is a response to the public debate over Communion during the 2004 race. The civility statement also suggests, wrongly, that the question of denying Communion to John Kerry was initiated by the laity:

As lay Catholics, we should not exhort the Church to condemn our political opponents by publicly denying them Holy Communion based on public dissent from Church teachings.

As a matter of historical fact, the debate began in January 2004 when it was revealed that Bishop Raymond L. Burke – then in La Cross, WI – counseled some pro-abortion Wisconsin politicians not to receive Communion. A few months later, after becoming archbishop of St. Louis, Burke announced that he would withhold Communion from John Kerry if he presented himself at the altar.

Burke was lambasted by the media, but he received the backing of numerous bishops who made their own statements on denying Communion to pro-abortion Catholic politicians: Archbishop Charles Chaput (Denver), Archbishop John Myers (Newark), Sean Cardinal O’Malley (Boston), and Bishop Michael Sheridan (Colorado Springs).

Are these bishops guilty of incivility in launching attacks on “private conduct”? Did these bishops speak because “partisan” laypersons twisted their arms, as the statement implies?

Civility is a virtue, and we need more of it in our public discourse. But it must not – and need not – come at the expense of our bishops speaking the truth.