CatholiCity 2009

The Pope Should Go to Gaza

Deal W. Hudson
April 13, 2009

“The Holy Father should not be coming to the Holy Land without visiting Gaza.” The bitterness in his voice was obvious as the professor at Bethlehem University talked to me about Pope Benedict XVI’s visit next month. I found that his attitude is the rule, rather than the exception, among Palestinian Christians in the Holy Land.

In interviews conducted with over twenty Palestinian Christian leaders last week, I was surprised to discover no enthusiasm whatsoever for the upcoming papal visit. “The pope’s visit here will only legitimize the recent Israeli operation in Gaza and the intentions of the right-wing government elected in February,” the professor explained.

Palestinian Christians have expressed their concerns directly to Benedict. In a little-noticed letter of February 20, 40 members of the Christian community in the Holy Land told the pope his visit would only serve to endorse Israeli government policies, “leading to more cooperation from the United States and Europe.”

Nidal Abu Zuluf is associate director of the YMCA in Bethlehem and coordinates a network of Christian organizations. As he gave me a copy of the letter, he asked, “Why now? It’s a bad time for the pope to come, and there is no clear message unless he goes to Gaza.”

From what I saw and heard there, adding Gaza to the papal visit to the Holy Land would indeed send a message to all concerned, including Hamas, which some Christians fear was strengthened by the three-week Israeli offensive. Benedict could visit Holy Family Parish in Gaza City, where Msgr. Manuel Musallam and his parishioners lived through the bombing that began on December 28 and the ground invasion a week later on January 3, 2009. Monsignor Musallam and his parish minister to the 200 Catholics remaining in Gaza (there are approximately another 3,000 Christians, most of whom are Greek Orthodox).

Unfortunately, the itinerary of the trip, set for May 8-13, does not include Gaza – it basically repeats the schedule of Pope John Paul II from March 2000. Benedict arrives in Amman, Jordan, before visiting Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and Nazareth. The problem, according to Abu Zuluf, is that the Holy Land is a “very different place” than it was in 2000. Ever since the uprising (Second Intifada) that followed the visit of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to the Temple Mount in September 2000, the West Bank has been in a state of lock-down enforced by hundreds of miles of security walls, checkpoints, settlements, settler roads, and harsh restrictions on freedom of movement.

Palestinian Christians have virtually no access to the holy sites in East Jerusalem, Galilee, and Nazareth. Abu Zuluf, a native of Bethlehem, has not been able to visit the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem since 1993, even though it is just a few miles away. Sadly, his situation is typical for Christians in Bethlehem and the adjacent, largely Christian cities of Beit Jala and Beit Sahour.

According to Br. Jack Curran, vice president for development of Bethlehem University, students in religion classes are routinely denied permits to travel out of the city. Even worse, he told me, “We can’t get permission from Israel for any students to attend the university from Gaza.” In spite of the government obstacles, Bethlehem University has mounted a new effort to engage students from Gaza. Brother Curran told me, “The university needs help from American Catholics both politically, to get Israeli permission for these young people to come to Bethlehem, and financially, to support their living and educational costs.”

The Christians living in the Holy Land will view Benedict’s visit through the lens of the recent Israeli offensive, which left 1,417 dead in Gaza, including 313 children. With the election of Benjamin Netanyahu, Christians in Bethlehem expressed fear that their city could become another Gaza. “We already live surrounded by walls and checkpoints. Why shouldn’t we think that what happened in Gaza could happen to us?” said a young woman in her mid-20s, who comes from one of the oldest and most prominent Christian families in Bethlehem.

Palestinian Christians will be deeply disappointed and demoralized if Benedict simply repeats the itinerary of John Paul II. Imagine the power of the Holy Father speaking from a Catholic parish in the midst of the devastation of Gaza. Benedict could not only speak to the issue of the ongoing conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, but could also issue an invitation to Catholics around the world to follow his example and visit the Holy Land.

A significant and lasting increase in Catholic pilgrims would provide financial help for both Israel and Palestine, moral support for Palestinian Christians, and an opportunity for Catholics to see the situation on the ground for themselves. The Palestinian Christian community is on life support, and the pope cannot ignore it.

Ten Hard Facts Confronting Benedict XVI in the Holy Land

Deal W. Hudson
April 16, 2009

The Holy Father, his entourage, and the international media are preparing to visit the Holy Land May 8-15. Pope Benedict XVI will undoubtedly encourage further peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians.

But the prospect of a two-state solution to the ongoing conflict has become more remote, as the situation on the ground is constantly changing. Here are the facts as they stand now, and which will confront the Holy Father when he arrives in Amman, Jordan on May 8:

1. The world’s oldest Christian community – the Christians of historic Palestine – will be gone within two generations if the Church does not act to protect them.

2. Estimates show that more than 10 percent of the Palestinian Christian community on the West Bank has immigrated in the last five years alone. There is a corresponding number of Palestinian Christians leaving from towns like Nazareth and East Jerusalem located within Israel.

3. Tension with Muslims is not the primary reason for the exodus – only 11 percent of Palestinian Christians cite it as a reason for immigration. In fact, these communities have historically coexisted peacefully, along with indigenous Jewish communities, for centuries before the birth of the modern Israeli conflict.

4. Palestinian Muslims are also leaving the West Bank for the same reason as Palestinian Christians: Living under a military occupation reflecting an unresolved geopolitical conflict destroys any hope of a future for their children.

5. Palestinian Christians have very little freedom of movement. Most have never worshipped in Jerusalem’s holy places, even though Bethlehem and Jerusalem are only a few miles apart and were historically connected for years. A system of segregated roads exists for Palestinians and Israelis, and checkpoints prevent Palestinians from traveling even between their own communities entirely within the West Bank. Many Israelis and official international observers say that these checkpoints and segregated roads are not there for Israel’s legitimate security interests, but to enable its illegal settlements to continue expanding.

6. Palestinians have been the subject of frequent attack – often with civilians and their homes in the direct line of fire. Since 1967, the Israeli army demolished more than 20,000 Palestinian houses, uprooted more than 3,000,000 trees, revoked residency rights of more than 6,000 Palestinians in Jerusalem, imprisoned more than 700,000 Palestinians for various periods of time, and killed or assassinated 15,000.

7. Since Israel removed its settlers from the Gaza Strip in 2004, Israeli settlements have expanded at their fastest rate in history. Moreover, Israel has issued plans to build more than 150,000 illegal housing units in Israeli settlements. In 2008, amidst the “settlement freeze” agreed upon in the 2007 Annapolis framework, tenders for new settlement building increased by 550 percent. Actual settlement construction has increased by 30 percent since the launching of the new round of peace talks.

8. After Israel removed all of its settlers and its permanent military presence from Gaza, it actually tightened its control over the area, devastating the economy and destabilizing the political situation, and then increased its settlements at the fastest rate in history. Since it removed 8,000 settlers from Gaza, over 50,000 new settlers have come to the West Bank in less than 3 years. The Israeli army is still in effective control of 24 percent of the land along Gaza’s northern and eastern borders.

9. Since negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians began in 1993, Israeli GDP has increased by an estimated 250 percent, while Palestinian GDP has decreased by more than 40 percent. Palestinians have been locked in a series of virtual, disconnected, and militarily controlled “cantons.” This makes a fertile soil for extremists.

10. Israel’s 21-day incursion into Gaza left an immense humanitarian crisis: More than 50,800 Gazans were left homeless; 80 percent of the population are now dependent on assistance; between 35 and 60 percent of the agriculture industry was wrecked (60 percent of the agricultural land in the north of the Strip may no longer be arable); 219 factories were destroyed or severely damaged; 48 percent of the 122 health facilities assessed were found to be damaged or destroyed; 15 of Gaza’s 27 hospitals and 41 primary health care centers suffered damages; 14,000 homes, 68 government buildings, and 31 NGOs were either totally or partially damaged – as a result, an estimated 600,000 tons of concrete rubble will need to be removed.

The communities of Israel and Palestine are historically interdependent. Each must have the ability to live in dignity within its own community. The Church must offer a universal message of hope, while not neglecting to care for its own. Indeed, the fate of Palestinian Christians and the Holy Land itself are irrevocably linked to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Benedict XVI, more than anyone else, understands the transformative power of faith and will bring that message to all the children of Abraham in the Holy Land.

A Catholic Writer Who Does Not Turn Away

Deal W. Hudson
April 20, 2009

In recent years, the phrase “Catholic writer” has become highly problematic. Some bestow it like a laurel on the brow of anyone who writes about pious Catholics who manage, through thick and thin, to follow all the rules. Others use the label in a nostalgic (and laudable) quest to find the next O’Connor, Percy, or Greene. Still, others habitually track down Catholic “themes” in fiction by an author whom they discover attends Mass or was educated by nuns.

Every now and then the real thing comes along: a Catholic writer who writes well enough to satisfy literate readers who judge fiction by the canons of fiction, not theology. It’s a bonus when that Catholic writer occasionally peoples his narratives with familiar characters – like the sexually confused ex-seminarian or the young, excessively certain priest. You recognize him not by his profession of faith, or his attention to clergy and rituals, but by his well-crafted works of imagination infused with a sacramental intelligence.

Such a writer is the 40-year-old Andrew McNabb, whose first book of short stories is titled The Body of This: Stories.

McNabb’s name should ring a bell among well-read Catholics: Yes, he is related to the famous Dominican Rev. Vincent McNabb, who rivaled his friends Chesterton and Belloc as a stylist. “He was my great-grandfather’s father’s brother, Patrick, one of eleven, who came to the States,” McNabb told me on the phone from Portland, Maine, where he lives with his wife, Sharon, and their four young children.

Both of McNabb’s daughters suffered strokes before they were born and now have cerebral palsy. Working at home, writing early in the morning and late at night, he is the primary caregiver for all the children. “I started writing fulltime ten years ago, ever since I married Sharon,” he told me. McNabb had struck it rich in his 20s, living in New York City and working for a Russian trading company that shipped millions of dollars of poultry and beef to Russia. “Everyone wanted a piece of us,” he told me. His success allowed him to move from Greenwich Village to the affluent East 59th off Sutton Place – where he suddenly decided to give it all up.

McNabb took a seven-month break in Ireland, where he started writing, something he knew he wanted to do since he had studied for his MBA at NYU. Upon his return at age 30, he married his wife, who was then a junior partner at Smith Barney. They moved to Newport, Rhode Island, so she could work in Providence, they could begin their family, and McNabb could continue to write. After nearly four years, the McNabbs moved to the West End of Portland, where many of his stories are set.

It wasn’t a stretch: McNabb grew up not far from Portland, in North Reading, Massachusetts, where he was one of five children (including two who were adopted) in a practicing Catholic family. He studied business at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst before leaving for his eight giddy years in New York. Always a devout, practicing Catholic, McNabb admits to having “been more sinful than the next person – sex, drugs, the kind of people I kept company with.” When I observe that some of this experience shows up in his stories, he comments, “This has been my experience. To write any other way would be wrong.”

McNabb’s stories are not going to be read aloud on EWTN anytime soon. Impure thoughts abound – not just sexual, but violent and spiteful. Take this description of a man fuming with rage as he watches a woman, a widow he knows, waiting for her dog to leave an “extrusion” in his front yard:

This wasn’t the Balkans where neighbors turned murderous overnight, but Portland, Maine, where it was the case, as with any other place humans lived, that at a moment’s notice you could circle in and find what was easiest to despise about just about anyone.

Note the totally unexpected meditation that follows, as the man decides to go out and clean it up:

The widow and the others – the cowards who came and left under the cover of darkness, the hypocrites who bagged only when someone else was about – they provided for him this necessary task, this debasement, this penance, and for that he felt the tiniest bit of gratitude.

This is typical of McNabb’s stories; what makes them so involving and moving is his attention to moments in life where many of us instinctively look away or simply turn off our thoughts to get through unpleasantness.

Most of his stories are short – some as brief as 500 words. “This is just how it happened for me,” he explains. He finished two “crappy novels” but is working on a memoir, Daddy’s Hope, about being a stay-at-home father with kids who have health issues.

Many of McNabb’s characters are frail, sickly, and elderly. One of the most touching, almost haunting, stories – “Their Bodies, Their Selves” – alone makes McNabb’s collection of thirty tales a must read, and there are many others that rise to its level. “It’s What It Feels Like,” the only long story in the volume, about an estranged husband who has won the lottery, has an ending worthy of O. Henry. “The King of the Tables” follows an elderly man with a schoolboy crush as he competes for his beloved’s attention while serving meals in the parish basement.

McNabb’s stories juxtapose the pure and the impure, the violent and the tender, the body and the spirit – yet there is nothing in them suggesting a Gnostic dualism. The unity of his stories is achieved by drawing our attention to a dogged mortality we would rather ignore. The Body of This is a sustained, poetic meditation on one character’s message to her injured husband: “There you are, and here I am.”

Are Canadian Bishops Helping to Support Abortion in Mexico?

Deal W. Hudson
April 23, 2009

Last year, the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) announced it would no longer fund the community-organizing arm of ACORN, a decision based on the disclosure of ACORN’s explicitly partisan efforts on behalf of President Barack Obama’s political campaign.

Now a much more egregious use of Catholic money has been alleged. LifeSiteNews (LSN), which operates primarily out of Toronto and is leading the investigation, has presented evidence that the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development & Peace (CCODP), an official arm of the Canadian Bishops’ Conference, is funding 16 organizations in 9 countries who advocate in favor of abortion and/or contraception.

At first, the Canadian Bishops’ Conference paid little heed to the evidence against CCODP and instead urged Catholics to continue giving to the organization. Two Canadian bishops called LSN’s reporting “false” and “malicious.” After months of following the story, however, it began to gain traction. An editorial in the Catholic newspaper of Vancouver acknowledged the scope of the CCODP scandal. Vancouver’s Archbishop, J. Michael Miller, and several other bishops demanded an internal investigation of CCODP before passing along its share of the annual Lenten collection. As a result, CCODP has asked a group of Canadian, U.S., and Mexican bishops to investigate the allegations.

This isn’t a new charge. In 2000, the CCODP was forced to stop funding the pro-abortion World March of Women after LifeSiteNews reported on the issue. That led to a huge controversy in Canada, with bishops publicly disagreeing with each other, creating widespread mainstream media coverage of the issue.

But CCODP’s denials will be considerably weakened after Wednesday’s interview on LSN with the Mexican official of an organization receiving CCODP grants ($32,000 in 2007-2008). Ofelia Pastrana Morena, the general coordinator of the Comaletzin Rural Feminist Interregional Coordinator, said in a telephone interview yesterday that the organization promotes the use of artificial birth control and “sexual and reproductive health services.” According to Pastrana Morena, if contraceptives fail, her organization seeks to make abortion available to women who don’t want what she called the “product” of conception, meaning the unborn child.

This is what’s known as a smoking gun – positive proof of LSN’s allegations that CCODP is funding at least one organization that recommends abortion for women. The question then is whether or not this will motivate the Canadian bishops to go beyond a simple internal investigation and scrutinize the grant-making of CCODP as closely as it deserves.

One disturbing aspect of the story is how CCODP and many of the Canadian bishops initially responded to the evidence. Before LSN released its first story, it contacted CCODP, where a representative told them that the organization has “no policy for or against” abortion. Its spokesman was completely unconcerned over whether the group was involved in pro-abortion activities.

After LSN released its first report, CCODP responded by releasing a memo saying that it was not involved in funding organizations that provide “abortion services,” an accusation LSN never made. CCODP executive director Michael Casey also wrote to CCODP supporters saying, “It is dangerously irresponsible and slanderous on the part of some journalists, through ill-conceived conjecture and hypothesis, to deliberately misinterpret the social justice initiatives of our southern partners in this light.”

CCODP has continued to deny that it funds organizations that provide “abortion services.” Meanwhile, it has only addressed LSN’s first report, the one in which they presented information about five of its Mexican partners. Since then, LSN has produced numerous reports, many with much stronger evidence that CCODP has refused to acknowledge.

LifeSiteNews has done the reporting and provided the evidence necessary for a serious and thorough investigation of the CCODP. Whether its administrative officers will respond as quickly and definitively as the CCHD in the United States remains to be seen.

♦ ♦ ♦

If you would like to urge the Canadian bishops to stop funding organizations that support abortion, contact the bishops’ conference:

Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops
2500 Don Reid Drive
Ottawa, Ontario
Canada
K1H 2J2
E-mail: cecc@cccb.ca
Phone: (613) 241-9461
Fax: (613) 241-9048

A complete list of contact information for the Canadian bishops may be found here.

Will New Jersey Elect a Pro-Life Catholic Governor?

Deal W. Hudson
April 27, 2009

As of a few days ago, a pro-life Catholic held the lead in the New Jersey governor’s race. Chris Christie has been steadily polling ahead of the current Democratic governor, Jon Corzine, and the other Republican candidate for the nomination.

Christie’s eleven point lead over Corzine, and 25 point lead over his closest GOP challenger, is remarkable in the post-Obama political climate when pro-life candidates, like Christie, are supposed to be a pass�.

The 47-year old Christie, viewed as a moderate candidate, has been married for 23 years to his wife, Mary Pat; they have four children, two boys, and two girls, ages 5 to 15. In New Jersey 42 percent of voters are Catholic, but the Republicans haven’t nominated a Catholic for governor since 1973.

Whether New Jersey Catholics will rally around a candidate like Christie remains to be seen. The last Catholic governor of New Jersey was James E. McGreevey who received a majority of the Catholic vote in spite of policy positions that were mostly antithetical to the Church. McGreevey beat a candidate, Brent Schundler, who was pro-life and socially conservative, but Protestant in a largely Catholic state. When a New Jersey columnist asked McGreevey to comment on the fact that his politics were out of line with most Irish Catholic voters, “McGreevey laughed the question off.”

You might assume from the reputation and recent history of New Jersey politics that there must be something questionable about Christie’s pro-life position that explains his present popularity. His GOP opponent, Steve Lonergan, in fact, has tried to label him “pro-choice,” but Congressman Chris Smith (R-NJ) has given Christie his “seal of approval,” which for movement pro-lifers will be the end of the argument.

Christie was nominated in 2001 by George W. Bush as the U.S. attorney general for the District of New Jersey and took office in January 2002. During his six years in office, he gained the reputation as something of a corruption-buster, having won convictions or guilty pleas from 130 public officials, both Republican and Democrat. Christie did not lose a single case.

One example of his successful prosecution was that of Sharpe James, the former mayor of Newark. James was found guilty of conspiring to sell nine city properties to his mistress, Tamika Riley, who resold them for hundreds of thousands in profit.

After the verdict, Gov. Corzine, a political ally of James, commented, “It’s unfortunate for the citizens of Newark;” adding, “I find it sad that any of the good work produced by Mayor James will get lost or overshadowed by his conviction.”

Corzine is vulnerable, in part, because he is viewed as someone who has been associated with various scandals – others and his own – during the entirety of his tenure as governor. Another vulnerability stems from his position on life issues. Corzine made headlines a few months ago when New Jersey filed a lawsuit to force Catholic hospitals to perform abortions. New Jersey Catholics voted it should be noted, for McCain over Obama, 55 percent to 45 percent.

As one of his leading supporters told me, “Christie is not a fire-breather, but a center-right guy who has the vision and guts to beat Corzine and the Democrats this November.” The election of Chris Christie would put a sudden end to all the talk about the need for Republicans to distance themselves from their pro-life constituencies.

Notre Dame Fumbles Its Obama Offensive

Deal W. Hudson
May 5, 2009

Bishop Thomas Wenski celebrated a Mass of Reparation this past Sunday in Orlando at the Cathedral of St. James. Although the Mass was offered in reparation for transgressions “against the dignity and sacredness of human life,” the one specific transgression prompting the liturgy was the decision by the University of Notre Dame to invite President Barack Obama to be its commencement speaker and receive an honorary degree.

As Bishop Wenski explained, “That Notre-Dame would invite him and would grant him, at the same time, an honorary degree… reveals that Notre-Dame (at least in its Administration and Board) has forgotten what it means to be Catholic” (emphasis added).

Who would have imagined it? A special liturgy of atonement occasioned by the nation’s premier and most-beloved Catholic institution, the University of Notre Dame. Who would have predicted that Notre Dame would ever be publicly accused of forgetting “what it means to be Catholic”?

Of course, Bishop Wenski is not alone in his opinion: He joins 61 bishops who have publicly taken issue with Notre Dame on their decision.

When I asked the bishop how his Mass was received, especially by those associated with Notre Dame, he responded:

“Actually, Notre-Dame alumni approached me to express their upset at the honorary degree and asked what they should do. I suggested that we pray, and the idea of the Mass of Reparation was born. The Church was full, with many alumni and parents of alumni in attendance. I even got calls from alumni who were out of town but called to tell me that they would have been there otherwise.”

Not everyone thinks Notre Dame has transgressed here, however. David Gibson, at the dotCommonweal blog, writes that the Mass of Reparation indicates that “this whole thing has truly gone into an alternate universe.” He adds that such a Mass was not advisable, “as it feeds divisions when there is no clear judgment that Notre Dame has committed such serious sin.”

Gibson got closer to the truth with his first comment about there being an “alternate universe” in the Catholic Church, which I take as a dramatic way of saying that there is a deep division among Catholics, and the Notre Dame incident has revealed it more clearly, perhaps, than any event in recent memory.

The administration at Notre Dame thought their institution was bigger, and packed more clout, than any group of angry laymen and “ultra-conservative” bishops that might protest honoring the most pro-abortion president in our nation’s history. Just to make sure, they held back the announcement that former Vatican ambassador and Harvard Law Professor Mary Ann Glendon would be receiving the Laetare Medal at the same commencement. On the Monday following the Friday afternoon announcement that Obama would speak at its commencement, Notre Dame issued a press release about Glendon, and a flurry of e-mails went out to Notre Dame alums assuring them that the well-known pro-life jurist would provide the Catholic counterpoint to Obama.

The strategy worked for a few days… and then the public-relations dam started to break. First, the local ordinary, Bishop John D’Arcy, announced on March 27 that he would not attend the commencement ceremony for the first time since 1985. The other bishops began to voice support for their brother bishop; this included the president of the USCCB, Chicago’s Cardinal George, a man deeply respected across the spectrum of the Church, who said on April 1 that Notre Dame had “brought extreme embarrassment” to Catholics.

But Rev. John Jenkins, the president of Notre Dame, arguing that Glendon’s presence on the program supplied “balance,” held on, even in the face of criticism from the head of his own Holy Cross order.

The number of bishops gradually rose from 10 to 20, then 40 to 50. Archbishop Timothy Dolan, newly installed ordinary in New York, joined the chorus of criticism on April 15. Suddenly, Notre Dame found itself losing the public-relations battle. But then, almost two weeks later, the bottom dropped out – Glendon herself, without any warning to the university, pulled out of the ceremony and posted an unusually stern letter for the diplomatic, and always affable law professor.

Glendon wrote that she was “particularly offended by the ‘talking points’ issued by Notre Dame in response to widespread criticism of its decision, including two statements implying that my acceptance speech would somehow balance the event.” In hindsight, this was Notre Dame’s biggest blunder, next to the Obama invitation itself. Whoever thought an e-mail touting Glendon as the pro-life balance to the pro-abort Obama could be spread virally through the Catholic community without it finding its way to Glendon was stunningly naive.

The tactic underscores Notre Dame’s self-image of standing astride the Catholic Church, rather than kneeling beneath it.

The Bishops Who Speak… and Those Who Don’t

Deal W. Hudson
May 11, 2009

A popular pastime among Catholic commentators lately could be called “counting the bishops.” In the last election, we counted the bishops who spoke out regarding their document on voting, “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” or on the qualifications of Barack Obama as a Catholic candidate. With the latest controversy over the upcoming Notre Dame commencement, another count is underway: 68 bishops have criticized the choice of President Obama to receive an honorary degree.

This is a noteworthy trend in the postconciliar Church that doesn’t go back far: Between the late 1960s and the 1990s, it was very unusual for a bishop to address an issue (outside the collective voice of the bishops’ conference) that had either national significance or tacitly challenged brother bishops to greater action.

The exceptions to this rule are few: John Cardinal O’Connor and Bernard Cardinal Law during the pro-life skirmishes of the 1980s; and from the left and right of the Church, Bishop Thomas Gumbleton and Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz. There were often consequences for bishops who ignored the code of collegiality – isolation or, sadly, retribution.

The reticence of bishops to put aside collegiality started to diminish during the 2004 presidential campaign. Many prelates began going public to defend Archbishop Raymond Burke, then from St. Louis, who was being hotly criticized for his comments to the St. Louis Post Dispatch that presidential candidate John Kerry “should not present himself for communion.” More than 20 bishops made statements that supported Archbishop Burke’s position and among them some familiar names: Chaput, Wenski, Aquila, Smith, Olmsted, Sheridan, Saltarelli, Harrington, Hughes, Boland, Finn, Gracida, Gossman, and Myers. (One significant preview of what lay ahead in 2004 was Bishop William Weigand’s warning to Gov. Rick Davis in January 2003 not to receive communion.)

The bishops’ growing willingness to speak individually has blunted the power of official statements issued by the USCCB. The commitment to collegiality had given greater authority to conference statements, but often at the cost of sending a forthright and prophetic message about the growing acceptance of abortion. The latest document, “Faithful Citizenship,” is an example of how a “compromise statement,” representing all the bishops, can contain language which is confusing at best and, at worst, subversive of pro-life aims.

Now that “counting the bishops” has become a factor in determining the direction of the Church, it will be necessary to count those who do not speak. Or, at least, it is important to consider the meaning in the silence of those bishops. The 2008 election did produce one episode that suggests what the silence means for some bishops.

The Sunday before the election, Mass was held by the bishop of a major Midwestern city, one of the key war zones between McCain’s and Obama’s Catholic supporters. (It is not necessary for me to reveal the name of the bishop.) After Mass, the bishop held a question-and-answer session, which became quite heated when he did not answer questions about the priority of life issues to the satisfaction of some present.

One of those dissatisfied waited to speak with the bishop after the session was over. She asked him why his comments sounded so out of line with the many bishops who had spoken publicly to underscore the importance of voting pro-life. The bishop replied testily, “Well, there are many of us who are not speaking out,” then turned and walked away.

In other words, there were bishops in the 2008 election who purposely did not speak out, and who did not agree with those who did. Their silence implied consent to the way Catholic teaching was being construed by Obama supporters like Doug Kmiec and Kathleen Kennedy Townsend.

What does this tell us about the silence of the remaining bishops on the upcoming commencement at Notre Dame? Certainly, there are those who agree with the 68 who have gone on the record against his selection. Perhaps they think the issue has been sufficiently flogged, especially with the public statement by USCCB President Francis Cardinal George.

But how many simply disagree with those bishops and think Notre Dame is doing the right thing by honoring President Obama? Is this the meaning of their silence? Do the majority of U.S. bishops agree with Notre Dame? If so, that may well be one of the reasons Notre Dame’s officials felt free to issue the invitation in the first place.

Catholics in Congress – The Ongoing Scandal

Deal W. Hudson
May 17, 2009

The scandal of President Barack Obama receiving an honorary degree at Notre Dame yesterday pales in comparison with the ongoing scandal of Catholics in Congress. Of the 161 Catholics presently serving, only 26 have 100 percent pro-life voting records, while 28 have a zero percent rating. Sixty-five have less than a 20 percent pro-life rating and 75 have accepted donations from pro-abortion lobbying groups.

These statistics are available at www.onenationundergod.org where Lisa Correnti has just published an exhaustive list of the pro-life voting records of Catholics in the 111th Congress. (Her numbers are based upon information from the National Right to Life compilation of life issue votes since 1997.) The advantage of Correnti’s list over others is that her numbers come from the entire career of each member. For example, Sen. John Kerry’s rating (4 percent) is based upon 45 votes since he was first elected in 1985. Rep. Chris Smith’s (R-NJ) impressive rating of 99 percent comes from 85 votes since 1981.

Of the 26 Catholics in Congress with perfect pro-life voting records, all are Republican, four are from California, two each is from the states of Florida, Texas, North Carolina, Michigan, Ohio, Nebraska, and Washington. Only two are from the Senate.

Here is a list of those with a 100 percent rating:

  • Rep. Dan Lungren (R-CA)
  • Rep. George Radanovich (R-CA)
  • Rep. David Nunes (R-CA)
  • Sen. Jim Risch (R-ID)
  • Rep. Edward A. Royce (R-CA)
  • Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa)
  • Sen. Jim Bunning (R-KY)
  • Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart (R-Fl)
  • Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fl)
  • Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-GA)
  • Rep. David Lee (R-MI)
  • Rep. Thaddeus McCotter (R-MI)
  • Rep. Mike Johanns (R-Nebraska)
  • Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-Nebraska)
  • Rep. Peter King (R-NY)
  • Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC)
  • Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-NC)
  • Rep. Jean Schmidt (R-OH)
  • Rep. Pat Tiberi (R-OH)
  • Rep. John Sullivan (R-OK)
  • Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX)
  • Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX)
  • Rep. Doc Hastings (R-Washington)
  • Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Washington)
  • Sen. Mel Martinez (R-FL)
  • Sen. David Vitter (R-LA)

Among the 31 with a zero percent pro-life voting record – or a 100 percent pro-abortion record, in other words – two are from California, four from New York, and three from Connecticut. Only one is a Republican.

Here is the list:

  • Rep. Harry Mitchell (D-AZ)
  • Rep. Raul M. Grijalva (D-AZ)
  • Rep. Mike Thompson (D-CA)
  • Rep. George Miller (D-CA)
  • Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-CA)
  • Rep. Diane Watson (D-CA)
  • Rep. Grace Napolitano (D-CA)
  • Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-CA)
  • Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA)
  • Rep. Jerry McNemey (D-CA)
  • Rep. John Larson (D-CT)
  • Rep. Joe Courtney (D-CT)
  • Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT)
  • Rep. Philip Hare (D-IL)
  • Rep. Mike Capuano (D-MA)
  • Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minnesota)
  • Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (D-NH)
  • Rep. Leonard Lance (R-NJ)
  • Rep. Albio Sirea (D-NJ)
  • Rep. Tim Bishop (D-NY)
  • Rep. John Hall (D-NY)
  • Rep. Michael Arcuri (D-NY)
  • Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PN)
  • Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-PN)
  • Rep. Charles Gonzales (D-TX)
  • Rep. Ciro Rodriguez (D-TX)
  • Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT)
  • Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Missouri)
  • Sen. Ted Kaufman (D-DE)
  • Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Washington)
  • Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY)
The record of Catholics in Congress is actually worse than the 31 names listed above would indicate. Twenty-two more Catholics have a 1 or 2 percent pro-life voting record, and another 14 have a record under 20 percent. That results in nearly 40 percent of Catholics in Congress with less than a 20 percent pro-life rating. It is even more alarming that only 28 percent of the Catholics in Congress have a rating of 70 percent or higher.

Many have argued that this scandal comes from the lack of formation Catholics have received over the past thirty years. What Correnti shows, by including the amount of money each member received from the pro-abortion lobby, is that Catholic dissent has actually become lucrative. For example, being a pro-abortion Catholic, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) has already benefitted to the tune of $489,081.00… and she has only been in Congress since 2007.

It's high time for Catholics to be as concerned about the overwhelming support for abortion by Catholics in Congress as they are about the Obama Administration. The new president would not have a free hand to remove abortion restrictions if the 161 Catholics – who make up 30 percent of the votes in Congress – had their priorities straight.

Is the “Jewish State” Another Obstacle to the Peace Process?

Deal W. Hudson
May 21, 2009

In Monday’s meeting at the White House, President Barack Obama strongly urged Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to reopen the peace process toward a two-state solution with the Palestinians. Obama also told Netanyahu, with surprising bluntness, “Settlements have to be stopped.”

The response from Netanyahu was ambiguous. At first, he said he would pursue the peace process “immediately,” but speaking to journalists later, emphasized he had not endorsed an independent Palestinian state. He added that a prerequisite for any agreement was the Palestinian recognition of Israel’s right to exist as a “Jewish state.”

Though some scoff at it, there is no question that Palestine has officially recognized Israel’s right to exist since 1988, and which was reiterated in 1993. What has now been added to Israel’s demand is the description of the nation as a “Jewish state.” The prime minister is not making this a pre-condition for negotiation but for reaching a final agreement.

The Israeli demand for its recognition as a “Jewish state” was first set forth by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on the eve of the Annapolis conference hosted by the U. S. in 1997. Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat, immediately rejected the demand saying it would very likely disallow the return of Palestinian refugees to homes and villages in the case of an agreement. Palestine’s President Mahmoud Abbas has recently repeated the objection.

The question inevitably arises, why does Israel want the Palestinians to affirm officially what everyone already knows? Isn’t this merely a dangerous semantic tango that creates yet another obstacle to a peace process that has long seemed doomed to failure?

Every civilized country in the world sees Israel as it defines itself. And Palestinians recognize Israel, but they have trouble officially recognizing its character as “Jewish” because they fear the immediate practical impact on refugees, borders, and their already tenuous identity.

Palestinian refugees now number over four million, and they claim a right of return to homes in what is Israel proper. The Palestinians have indicated their willingness to compromise on the “right of return,” as evidenced by the Arab Peace Initiative, which calls for a “just and agreed” resolution of the refugee problem with Israel. But recognizing Israel as a “Jewish state” will be seen by Palestinians as pre-determining that outcome without getting anything in exchange.

Israel has never defined its borders. In fact, it continually expands them, through the massive growth of settlements on Palestinian land and Jewish-only roads. Palestinians reasonably fear that by recognizing Israel as a “Jewish state” without getting anything in return, they are tacitly legitimizing Israel’s continued settlement of the West Bank.

The population of Israel, including those in the occupied territories, is 50% Palestinian. Recognizing Israel as a Jewish state for Palestinians living in the occupied territory appears to legitimize what they consider their third-class citizenship in what is their homeland too (this includes Palestinian citizens of Israel).

Since Palestinians entered the Oslo peace process with Israel in 1993, they haven’t seen anything in return, except for a tripling in Israeli settlers, construction of modern Israeli-only highways, a 40% drop in Palestinian GDP, and draconian restrictions on movement. An entire generation of Palestinian children in the West Bank has never been to the sea, even though many can see it from their homes.

Israel needs peace now more than ever. Rather than focusing on the semantics of a very difficult phrase, Israel – along with the Palestinians and the international community – needs to focus on bringing a stable and just solution to both Israelis and Palestinians.

Now is not the time to create more obstacles to the peace process. If Israel negotiates a genuine peace with the Palestinians and its Arab neighbors, the next generation of Israelis and Palestinians may finally look forward to hoping, not more war and hatred.

Michael Sean Winters of America Magazine Implies that I’m an Anti-Semetic

Deal W. Hudson
May 21, 2009

This morning I sent my column on the future of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process to Michael Sean Winters – a writer at America magazine – in the spirit of collegiality. What I got in return is the implication on the America blog that I am either anti-Semitic or am aiding the rise of anti-Semitism among conservatives.

This kind of nonsense stifles legitimate debate on how best to protect both the Jewish state and Palestinians.

Here’s what Winters wrote:

Conservative Catholics, who were some thirty percent of the Moral Majority in the early 1980s, had a more checkered history when it came to the Jews. Some conservative Catholics were the ideological heirs of the violent anti-Semite Father Charles Coughlin. Joseph Kennedy, the family patriarch, was an anti-Semite. Sen. Joe McCarthy, whose career reached its zenith after the Shoah, when anti-Semitism was in low esteem, transferred traditional anti-Semitic diatribes and directed them at communists and many saw communism as an essentially Jewish enterprise. Note the fifth letter to the editor in this compendium from America’s 1954 archives. But, with Cold War at the center of geopolitical concerns in the 1980s, whatever anti-Jewish sentiments still roiled in their memories, conservative Catholics set them aside to embrace Israel as part of the Moral Majority’s platform.

Today, I see, there is a crack in the coalition. Deal Hudson has published a remarkably ill-informed article that questions why Israel insists on its designation as “a Jewish state”…

[He goes on to respond to one of my specific points, before concluding with… ]

Conservatives in America have enough troubles what with Cheney defending torture, Rush Limbaugh embarrassing himself on a daily basis, and congressional Republicans looking like so many deer in the headlights. Now, they have a split within the ranks on support for Israel. Keep an eye on this. Anyone familiar with the history of anti-Semitism knows that Western culture seems always to have another outbreak of this vile prejudice just around the corner. But there is this difference. During the pogroms of earlier times, there was no Israel to which Jews could go to defend themselves. Happily, that is no longer the case.

It would apparently surprise Winters that I agree completely with the last sentence: I am thankful there is a place of protection for the Jews and am deeply concerned with protecting Israel and the Jewish people from a second Holocaust. Winters is obviously unaware that I have and do unequivocally support a Jewish state.

But he is careless (at the very least!) to associate someone who supports Israel, with abhorrent anti-Semitism. Criticism of Israel’s foreign policy is not anti-Semitism; how many times does that point need to be made? My positions have long been shared by both Israelis and non-Israeli Jews – we simply believe there is a better way to protect Israel.

Perhaps Winters is simply ignorant of the differences of opinion among Israelis(also here) on the issue of designating Israel officially as a “Jewish state.” Are they anti-Semitic?

Perhaps Winters is also somehow unaware that special envoy George Mitchell has publicly stated that the U.S. rejects the demand for Palestinian recognition of Israel as a “Jewish state” (reported by Akiva Eldar, chief political writer of Haaretz, on April 19, 2009). Am I to assume Winters disagrees with the Obama administration on their approach to the peace negotiations? Are George Mitchell and President Obama anti-Semitic too?

And maybe Winters is also unaware of the rejection of the “Jewish state” designation by former Patriarch Michael Sabbah. That would be particularly surprising, since Patriarch Sabbah’s book, Faithful Witness: On Reconciliation and Peace in the Holy Land, was edited by Rev. Drew Christiansen, S. J., editor-in-chief of America and Michael Sean Winters’s boss.

I have interviewed Patriarch Sabbah on three occasions, and his book is very much in line with what I wrote in my column. So… is Patriarch Sabbah anti-Semitic in Winters’s view? (Incidentally, Theodore Cardinal McCarrick, who is himself deeply involved in the Holy Land, supplied the forward to Sabbah’s book. Another anti-Semite?)

Winters disagrees with me on what the Palestinians have received as a result of their recognition of Israel’s right to exist. Differences of opinion are fine, and I am glad to engage him – or anyone – on the facts of the case. But accusations of anti-Semitism are completely over the line.

I have written quite a bit about the Holy Land, based on the firsthand knowledge acquired during my four trips since 2004, and I have tried to make my working assumptions clear (among them, my support for the Jewish state). Respect for Palestinian human rights and a recognition of increasing Palestinian suffering are hardly incompatible with Israeli security. In fact, the legal protection of Palestinian rights is the only way to effectively protect Israel’s long-term security.

Michael Sean Winters should reread my piece and reconsider his hotheaded accusations. Is this the kind of voice and tone we should expect from America? We shall see.