Crisis Magazine 2004

Sed Contra: Watch This Closely

Deal W. Hudson
January 1, 2004

In the next couple of months, the National Review Board will issue two reports. On January 6, the board will announce the results of its diocesan audit that measures compliance with the charter the bishops adopted in June 2002 to protect children and youth. And on February 27, the board will release its survey—compiled by criminologists at John Jay College—of all the allegations of sexual abuse of minors by priests in the past 50 years. This study will also contain a preliminary analysis of the causes of the abuse.

Bishop Wilton Gregory, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), has already revealed that the findings are worse than predicted. Getting all the bad news out in the open can be helpful but only if we acknowledge clearly the causes and solutions for the breakdown in priestly discipline.

The problem facing faithful Catholics is how to keep dissenting groups from swamping the media with the message, “See, we were right all along. The only way to solve this problem is to eliminate celibacy, ordain women and more married men, and loosen ties with Vatican authority.” My sources tell me that Voice of the Faithful and Call to Action are planning to take full advantage of this unfortunate moment in our history.

Martha Burke, the acting chair of the National Review Board, was recently interviewed by Raymond Arroyo on EWTN’s The World Over. Several of the viewers who called in after the interview expressed skepticism regarding the upcoming findings of the board. Their concern, which I share, is how the data will be analyzed and explained. In other words, since data never speak for themselves, how will this data be made to speak, and by whom? Her inability to answer those questions directly did little to comfort the callers.

Data require context, comparables, and a sound viewpoint to be useful. The Church needs to know how its track record compares to other institutions with employees who staff positions of authority and deal with persons in vulnerable situations.

Another crucial distinction is the percentage of incidents involving children under and over the age of puberty, which will confirm whether the majority of these incidents stem from homosexuality (as I suspect they do). The Church needs to face squarely the number of sexually active homosexuals in its priesthood, how they got there, and why they’ve been allowed to remain.

Will the study distinguish between mere accusations and credible allegations—allegations leading to ecclesial action, to financial settlements, to criminal charges and prosecution? The Church should not overreact to the demand for transparency by treating any allegation sitting in the file over the past 50 years as worthy of reaching the public record. Priests, after all, value their reputations and shouldn’t have them besmirched needlessly in an effort at public self-flagellation.

At present, the board is under something of a cloud. Much has been made—rightfully—of the appointment of Leon Panetta, whose pro-abortion position is a matter of public record. Frank Keating resigned his chairmanship after some of his forth-right and colorful comments irked California’s, Roger Cardinal Mahony. Kathleen McChesney, director of the USCCB’s Office of Child and Youth Protection, works for the board as well and has made one too many trips to lecture among dissenters.

But I have one good reason to trust that the board’s work will turn out well: William Burleigh, the former CEO of Scripps Howard, is a member of the board and a man of impeccable character and commitment to the Magisterium. (Crisis readers may recall that his wife, Anne Husted Burleigh, was once a regular contributor.)

Burleigh has been vocal in rejecting attempts by the bishops to control the work of the board and was quoted in U.S. News & World Report as saying, “In adopting this posture, we hope we are not seen by you as hostile or untrustworthy. Nothing could be further from the truth. As a board we are united by our love for the church and a burning desire to see that her wounds are healed:’

Let us pay close attention to the reports of the National Review Board and receive them with open minds. Our job is to think through the data with the mind of the Church and be ready to confront those who will try to hijack the moment to spread their own ideology.

Sed Contra: The Coming Test

Deal W. Hudson
April 1, 2004

This summer in Boston the Democratic Party will formally nominate a pro-abortion Catholic, Senator John Kerry, as its candidate for president. This is the man who went out of his way during the primary to identify himself as the most pro-abortion of all the candidates.

When asked what his first act as president would be, Kerry replied that he would repeal the Mexico City Policy. (The policy ensures that federal money is not spent on abortions either at military bases or in population control programs around the world. It was the first presidential act of George W. Bush.)

Already, Kerry has tried to wrap himself in the mantle of another president—John F. Kennedy—who famously declared in his 1960 campaign that if he were elected, he would not be controlled by the Vatican. But Kerry is, as they say, no John F. Kennedy: It’s one thing to divorce one’s religious faith from public duties and quite another to pledge that one’s first act in office will be to oppose the Church’s most fundamental moral teaching— the protection of innocent life.

The example of Kennedy opened the doors for a generation of Catholic politicians who have kept their faith in the closet. The worst offenders have become household names: Senator Ted Kennedy, Congressman Rev. Robert Drinan, S.J., Governor Mario

Cuomo, Congresswoman Geraldine Ferraro, Justice William Brennan, and Justice Anthony Kennedy. But they’re hardly the only ones. Of the 150 Catholic members of the Senate and House of Representatives, more than 70 have pro-abortion voting records. That is the direct legacy of Kennedy’s public disavowal of his Catholic faith.

In the past few years, lay Catholics and their bishops have begun confronting “Catholic” politicians who brazenly ignore the fundamental moral and social teachings of their Church. With the leadership of Bishops Weigand, Burke, Cupich, Chaput, Keleher, Sheehan, Hughes, and Morlino—and the eloquent “Doctrinal Note” on political participation by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger—the tide has been slowly changing.

The arrival of homosexual marriage is yet another wake-up call to faithful Catholics absent from the public arena. (Is it any accident that the first same-sex marriages have occurred in Massachusetts and California where there are so many Catholics and such lax leadership?) And now, along comes Kerry promising to make abortion as widely available as possible—even using your tax money to offer it. What will America’s Catholics do?

Just as the Kennedy election shaped Catholicism in politics in the last 50 years, so too will the Kerry candidacy be an indicator for the next half-century. If U.S. Catholics vote in large numbers for Kerry, the message to present and future Catholics will be clear: You don’t need to believe in or act on Church teaching in public life; Catholics don’t care whether you’re faithful or not.

Catholics make up approximately 30 percent of those who vote in national elections. They are a powerful swing vote, especially in states with large numbers of electoral votes such as Michigan, Pennsylvania, Florida, Ohio, Illinois, and California. It took Bush winning 10 percent more of the Catholic vote than Robert Dole in 1996 to barely beat Al Gore. The loss of the Catholic vote to Kerry would be disastrous to Bush’s reelection.

Kerry supporters are counting on this. Already a “Catholics for Kerry” organization has been created, its moderator a man named Ono Ekeh who—until recently—was an employee in the Secretariat for African American Catholics for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. This exemplifies our main political problem: Why should any political candidate seek Catholic support when he or she cannot be sure what we stand for?

In the past, Catholics have lacked political power because they’ve either ignored or apologized for the central tenets of their faith. In November 2004, we’ll see if that sad fact remains true.

Sed Contra: Funding Imagination

Deal W. Hudson
May 1, 2004

Conservatives, by and large, don’t trust the arts. The suspicion goes back to four centuries before Christ when Plato famously argued that the passions awakened by artists were a threat to the state.

In 1965 the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) was created, along with its sister, the National Endowment for the Humanities, as part of the Great Society legislation of Lyndon Johnson. Its modest budget grew to $175.9 million in 1992 under George H. W. Bush. Then came the catastrophes of Robert Mapplethorpe’s homoerotic photos, Andres Serrano’s “Piss Christ,” and Karen Finley, the female performance artist who likes to coat her naked body in chocolate.

The 1995 Contract with America, under the leadership of Newt Gingrich, targeted the NEA with drastic cuts and eventual extinction. In 1996, the NEA budget was cut to $99 million. The House voted to eliminate the agency altogether, but the Senate brokered a deal that saved the NEA by cutting its board to 14 members, adding six congressmen as watchdogs, and mandating significant grant restrictions.

The restrictions—intended to avoid any repetition of the scandals—limited the NEA to funding companies rather than individual artists (with the exception of writers) and specific programs rather than entire seasons. In addition, companies receiving funding cannot pass it on to an artist or company; and no more than 15 percent of NEA funds can go to any one state.

The NEA has learned from its mistakes, and more importantly, it has a new chairman—Dana Gioia who has already instituted new programs that justify both the existence of the NEA and President George W. Bush’s request for an increase in funding from $121 million to $139.4 million.

The centerpiece of Gioia’s vision for the NEA is the program that he started more than a year ago, “Shakespeare in American Communities.” This is the largest tour of Shakespearean plays in American history. Seven acting companies are touring all 50 states, performing in more than 100 small and midsize towns. An educational booklet on how to teach Shakespeare is being distributed for free by the NEA to more than 25,000 teachers from a Web site, http://www.shakespeareinamerican The most innovative aspect of the program is its partnership with the Department of Defense, which kicked in $1 million so that the plays could be performed on 16 military bases to service personnel, their families, and their schoolchildren. The plays are well-chosen: Othello, Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, Richard II, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Gioia has taken a 20-year-old NEA award, the NEA Jazz Masters, and has given it much greater visibility. A recent event at a music educator’s conference in New York City honoring jazz greats was filmed by the Black Entertainment Television network for airing in the spring.

Of the $18 million increase for 2005, $15 million has been earmarked for a project that, I believe, is desperately needed—”American Masterpieces: Three Centuries of Artistic Genius.” This three-year project will do for the best of American art and culture what the NEA is doing for Shakespeare: Take it to the American people. The first year will feature dance, choral music, and the visual arts, with literature, music, and other arts being featured in the remaining years.

I applaud the opportunity, for example, for my teenage daughter to see the Martha Graham Dance Company perform the original choreography to Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring. It will take repeated exposure to powerful works of art from the likes of Graham, Copland, and Andrew Wyeth to convince a generation of teenagers that there’s more to music, dance, and visual arts than what they see on MTV.

Critics either try to make the NEA an emblem of fiscal irresponsibility, when its present budget is 0.0052 percent of the federal budget, or they assume that NEA funding is inevitably given to American-hating, conservative-baiting artists. But the culture has changed at the NEA, and this change benefits all of us.

“Ripeness is all,” says Edgar in King Lear, and America is ready for a rebirth of the arts. Dana Gioia has a vision and an administrative gift that deserves our support.

Sed Contra: The Bishops’ Conference in a Political Season

Deal W. Hudson
July 1, 2004

Catholic pundit Kate O’Beirne famously called the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) the “Democratic Party at prayer.” In an ongoing series on the bishops in CRISIS, we only slightly amended that by noting the USCCB’s commitment to the defense of innocent life—a stance not shared with the Democratic Party.

Soon the USCCB will deliver its presidential questionnaire to candidates George W. Bush and John F. Kerry. All of us will then have a chance to see whether or not we were correct in drawing so close a line between the bishops and the Democrats. Indeed, the rumor here in D.C. is that the questionnaire will mirror the letter the 48 pro-abortion Catholic Democrats in Congress sent to Theodore Cardinal McCarrick, as well as the already-infamous Senator Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) analysis of the Catholic voting record in the Senate. (Just to remind you, Durbin’s analysis listed Kerry as the most Catholic senator, and put Rick Santorum near the bottom!)

Common to both the “Letter of the 48” and the Durbin report is the ridiculous assumption that a vote for the ban on partial-birth abortion is of equal importance to a vote for Congressional bills like the Collins Mercury Reduction Act, which limits the use of mercury in thermometers. (The USCCB lobbied against both.) In other words, the Democratic approach is to group all of the USCCB’s legislative actions together, giving each equal weight with the others. And so the defense of innocent human life equals regulating mercury thermometers, equals the Dorgan Joint Resolution rejecting “the rule submitted by the Federal Communications Commission with respect to broadcast media ownership.”

Obviously, there isn’t the slightest basis for this approach to public policy anywhere in Church teaching.

Will the questionnaire adopt this dodge? Will it ask a long list of policy questions that allows Kerry to get away looking like the Ideal Catholic Senator? Or will the questionnaire actually reflect the priorities of Catholic teaching by focusing on the central life issues—abortion, euthanasia, the death penalty, stem-cell research, cloning, and judicial nominations?

For the 2000 presidential election, the USCCB questionnaire was designed in a way that allowed candidate Al Gore actually to describe himself as “pro-life” without any editorial comment by Catholic News Service or the USCCB. Let’s hope the same mistake isn’t made again.

A few weeks ago I was part of a group of religious journalists who interviewed the president at the White House. At the time, I asked why he thought he was being criticized for expressing his faith in public. He replied that he simply didn’t know what motivated people to criticize him about this and added that as a Christian, he believed he had a responsibility to “let the light shine.”

This statement captures what I myself have observed about the president’s faith. He is neither a religious zealot nor an ideologue from the religious right. He reads the Bible through every year and sees no reason to deny that it influences him. He freely admits that letting “the light shine” is part of his reason for signing legislation to protect innocent life, as well as supporting the federal marriage amendment.

Catholics deserve a real look at the candidates—one that respects the Church’s hierarchy of values. Senator Durbin and the 47 other pro-abortion Catholics in the Congress have ignored that hierarchy. Let’s hope the conference doesn’t do the same.

Sed Contra: A Change for the Better

Deal W. Hudson
September 1, 2004

As you’ve probably already noticed, Crisis Magazine has gotten a major face-lift. Not only have we completely redesigned our look, but we’re now full color from cover to cover.

Our reasons are many, but the main one is simple: This is our small way of thanking you for being a faithful Crisis reader.

You see, as I write this, Crisis subscribers now number well over 32,000. To celebrate our continuing growth, we wanted to give Crisis an updated and more attractive look. I hope this new design will provide you added enjoyment and ease in reading. And I also hope the new Crisis look will help us reach the next plateau of growth and influence.

Don’t worry, we’re not raising the price of the magazine, nor is this some trick to get more money out of you. This is simply a free thank-you gift from us to you. I hope you’re as happy with the new look as we are. The fact is, the old style had become cramped and difficult to read. Not only that, but much of our mission is centered on beauty, art, and culture. Our old design wasn’t remotely beautiful. And when we carried stories on art—as we like to do—we’d have to render colorful masterpieces in black and white. It wasn’t fair to our authors, and it wasn’t fair to you.

And so, after almost ten years, we’ve updated our look. With this new design, we’ve gone for a mix of elegance, simplicity, and readability. Please let us know what you think.

Interestingly enough, the color redesign comes with some risk. There are those who think that an attractive, well-designed magazine cannot possibly be a serious publication as well. For these individuals, it seems that intellectual weight must be aesthetically plain. Others may believe—subliminally perhaps—that the new design reflects a softening in our editorial commitment to a strong, orthodox Catholicism.

Let me dispel both concerns. For a magazine to be fully Catholic, in form and content, it must strive not only to speak the truth but also to embody the kind of excellence found through the history of Catholic culture. The new design is another step in the direction of our growth in visual and design excellence. (Recall Hans Urs von Balthasar’s warning that those who pursue their lips at beauty will one day be unable to pray or to love.)

Furthermore, Crisis has no plans to become a picture book. We will always be a reader’s magazine. Our commitment to in-depth commentary and reporting on the culture from a faithful Catholic perspective remains what it was in November of 1982 when Crisis was founded. But now we have the opportunity to make the look of the magazine match the high quality of the content.

A final word: Our growth curve in recent years is due to many factors, but two deserve special mention. Raymond Matthew Wray, my longtime associate publisher, is wholly responsible for the day-to-day decisions concerning the marketing of the magazine, and it’s due to his careful supervision that Crisis has grown so dramatically. Editor Brian Saint-Paul has remade the content of the magazine over the past two years, making it more readable, interesting, and varied. Due to his work we’ve seen an increase in readers renewing the magazine, another factor in continued growth.

The remainder of the Crisis staff—eleven in all—also deserve great thanks: We’re truly blessed with a group of cheerful, talented, and committed people who come together five days a week to bring you our monthly magazine and weekly e-letter. Please remember to pray for all of us and our work. Know that in the heart of Washington, D.C., is a family of writers, editors, designers, and publishers working to create the best Catholic magazine we possibly can.

Sed Contra: Looking Back, Looking Forward

Deal W. Hudson
November 1, 2004

It’s been over ten years since I took the helm of Crisis Magazine and moved my family to Washington, D.C. Since then the circulation has grown from 6,000 to over 32,000, the full-time staff from three to eleven, and the budget has more than quadrupled to nearly $2 million. More important than the numbers, however, Crisis has served the Church well, and the evidence for its influence is widespread.

The most gratifying accomplishment of the past ten years has been the ability of Crisis to impact the debate on the Catholic Church in the public square. Crisis is the most often-cited Catholic publication in the country, and its success proves that a magazine doesn’t have to boast a huge circulation to make a real difference in the culture. All it takes is a readership willing to put words into deeds.

But the time has come for me to pass the torch as publisher. While I will still do some fundraising for the magazine—the viability of Crisis depends upon your support and generosity—I have other projects to pursue, including a book I’m writing on Catholics in politics. I look forward to writing in the solitude of my home office, where I can pop up the stairs when I hear my children come home from school.

Hannah, having just turned 16, has become a lovely young woman whose every day seems like an adventure. She sings beautifully and rides horses with great confidence, but Dad needs to help her a bit more with math and science. And Cyprian—now in first grade—is facing the challenge of learning to read. During his first three years in a Romanian orphanage, he never really mastered the first language, and he needs lots of hands-on time from Mom and Dad to get him over the hump. My new role will allow me to take on more responsibility at home.

So what exactly will that new role be? Crisis is published by the Morley Publishing Group, Inc.—a non-profit corporation. I will be creating within Morley a new institute that will be charged with projects consonant with the Morley mission—to be a faithful Catholic voice in our culture. My book will be the initial focus, but other projects worthy of the institute’s attention are now appearing on the horizon.

The Morley board will soon announce an acting publisher and form a search committee to find a permanent replacement. To say I’m leaving the magazine in the capable hands of editor Brian Saint-Paul and associate publisher Raymond Matthew Wray is an understatement: They’ve been running the day-to-day operations of the office for quite a while and deserve much of the credit that I’ve received for the quality of the magazine and its growth.

As you may already know, a truly regrettable incident of mine from ten years ago was revealed by a liberal Catholic newspaper in late August. The editor of that newspaper was not shy in justifying his exposé as retaliation for what he called my “public moralizing.” I hold no grudge against that newspaper, its reporter, or editor, but I can’t deny that the story has influenced my decision to step down.

For now, however, it’s time for reflecting, writing, and catching up with life at home. I hope all of you will join me in celebrating what we’ve accomplished at Crisis. I’m genuinely grateful for having had the opportunity to serve the Church in such a public way. And please join me also in reaffirming your support for Crisis, its staff, and its mission.

With the December issue, I’ll be retiring from “Sed Contra.” And like you, I’ll eagerly await the next chapter in the extraordinary story that is Crisis Magazine.

Sed Contra: Catholics Take a Stand

Deal W. Hudson
December 1, 2004

The Church dodged a bullet on November 2. The last thing the Church needed was an openly dissenting Catholic in the White House. By now everyone knows that Catholics voted for George Bush at the historic level of 51 percent overall and 55 percent of regular Mass attendees. This shift in political support provides further evidence of the changes in the Catholic Church in this country.

Most evident is the growing split between the John Paul II Catholics and those who fashion themselves as the true heirs of Vatican II and the papacy of John XXIII. Although informed Catholics realize that neither Vatican II nor the pope who called for it would justify the kind of open dissent from Church teaching that pours out of mainstream Catholic institutions.

In the coming years, these institutions will be openly challenged by the same legion of Catholics who threw their support to the pro-life president. Just as pro-abortion candidates are undergoing closer scrutiny and even defeat—think Senator Daschle—the parishes, colleges, hospitals, and chanceries preaching dissent will be increasingly challenged.

This has already started in small- and medium-sized dioceses where access to power structures are more readily available to Catholic activists. The urban dioceses are so entrenched and buried in bureaucracy they’ll need to be overhauled from above. And a generation of bishops is coming along who won’t be afraid to clean the stables.

Along with the challenge to Church institutions itself, this generation of lay Catholics who have been inspired by the present pope will not be intimidated by the demonization of religious belief so widespread during the campaign and in the aftermath of Bush’s election. The name-calling and labeling of Catholics and Evangelicals by the media elite has done nothing but create a formidable backlash.

Very quickly the force of that backlash was felt again in the outrage over the comments of Senator Arlen Specter regarding a litmus test for future federal and Supreme Court judges.

Some have said that the bishops are the big losers in this election—than in the failure of many of them to delineate clearly the difference between an issue like fetal stem cells and arctic drilling, they abdicated their responsibility. I respectfully disagree. The winner in this election—from a Catholic perspective—is the Catholic laity. Their unprecedented level of participation and their commitment to protecting life and marriage—as expressed through their vote—suggests that the bishops may have been doing a better job than previously thought.

Crisis Magazine has always argued that the duty of evangelizing the culture is the job of the laity. Since I came to Crisis over ten years ago, I’ve sounded that theme over and over again. Not only have I written about it and encouraged others to do it, but I’ve participated in the battle on the ground. What the laity is called to do cannot be accomplished from an armchair, even if it happens to be surrounded by the greatest books ever written. Informed Catholics must take the field, and indeed they have.

Nothing scares the old guard more than an informed and faithful Catholic laity unwilling to be intimidated into inaction by worn-out slogans and mantras. If I have learned anything over the past decade it is that information is power, and if it is widely and effectively disseminated, faithful people will be jarred to action. This is what I’ve hoped to accomplish for our country and our Church.

I pray that it is.

Passion, Not Prejudice-Mel Gibson’s Christ

By Deal W. Hudson

Mel Gibson’s Passion is finally in movie theaters. Now people can see for themselves what all the hubbub is about. Most, I believe, will leave the theater shaken to the core by the terrible beauty of Gibson’s masterpiece. The media-driven expectation of an anti-Semitic portrayal of the Jews will be swept away by the spectacle of a man of peace abused, scourged, crucified, betrayed, and abandoned by all but a few of his family and friends.

When the ridiculous charges of anti-Semitism have finally passed, two questions will have to be asked. First, why was the attack on Gibson so pro-longed, so vicious, so multifaceted? Second, why did none of the liberal crowd who joined in the public hounding of Gibson ever concern themselves with his artistic freedom?

It was not that long ago when Andres Serrano was dipping a crucifix in urine to the delight of the New York Times and the anti-Catholic elites of the art world. Catholics who were offended at such vulgarity on display in an exhibit funded by public dollars were accused of censorship and the Philistine refusal of artistic license. Indeed it has been a virtual calling card of the left to place unflattering portrayals of Christianity in the arts beyond criticism. How, they ask, can the imagination of the artist be measured by the traditional religious creeds?

But what happens when an artist puts the central fact of the creed—”He suffered, died, and was buried”—on a movie screen? Apparently, concern for Gibson’s freedom as an artist no longer applies. When a major movie star employs all his talent and celebrity to put a conventional Passion play on film, everyone from seminary professors to movie critics and liberal pundits forget their defense of film director Martin Scorcese’s The Last Temptation of Christ a generation ago.

Once we acknowledge that the intelligentsia defends anything religiously heterodox, it then becomes apparent why Gibson’s film has drawn so much heavy fire. It’s perfectly fine if the meaning of Christianity is seen through the humanist vision of a Martin Scorcese or a Martin Sheen. Soon we’ll have a film version of The Da Vinci Code with its preposterous thesis about the marriage of Jesus to Mary Magdalene and about which liberal scholars and critics will say nothing.

But a film about Jesus Christ by Mel Gibson simply cannot be allowed. First, he’s a genuine celebrity, a mega-star whose film will be influential for that very fact. Second, he really believes Jesus Christ is the Son of God, that his death was not simply an example of love for his fellow man but the redemption of humankind. Third, as witnessed in Braveheart, Gibson is capable of making a classic film sure to be admired as long as film endures.

All this adds up to a movie that will be a powerful witness to the truth of traditional Christianity, precisely the force that liberal elites have been trying to still for decades. It’s Christianity—and especially orthodox Catholicism and evangelicalism—that denies them their total victory in the culture wars. Proponents of abortion, gay marriage, radical feminism, multiculturalism, and postmodernism all harbor a deep fear of the truth claims of Christianity about the fixed nature of God’s creation.

Gibson surely knew that making a film about Christ was scandalous to the unbelievers in Hollywood, but I doubt if he realized the threat it represents to the intellectuals who employ a neutered Christianity for their own ideological enterprises.

One final word on the question of anti-Semitism (an ugly and destructive force both here and in Europe): It’s possible that some bigots may have their prejudice reinforced by Gibson’s film. But that doesn’t make the movie anti-Semitic, nor does it justify the attacks on Gibson. Films are released every week that exacerbate the sick tendencies of child molesters, rapists, murderers, and Rambo wannabes. We can’t censor ourselves just because some nut somewhere may be influenced negatively by our work.

I thank Mel Gibson for his film and for all he was willing to endure in making his faith public. His life and career will never be the same—would it were that more men had such courage.

Addendum: Subsequent events in Mel Gibson’s life did reveal his anti-Semitism. His film, however, does not, in my opinion, express an anti-Semitic point of view, an opinion I am prepared to defend as I have in the past (June, 2016).

Published in Crisis Magazine, March 1, 2004

Mary’s Shadow and Protection

By Deal W. Hudson

Having never been to a ma­jor Marian shrine, I didn’t know quite what to expect. So on my way to the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City, I consciously put aside all preconcep­tions about what I should experience. I wanted just to let it happen.

Over the years I’ve become in­creasingly aware of the importance of this shrine, only a few kilometers from the heart of the city. The image of Mary given to Juan Diego through an armful of flowers holds immense significance for Catholics around the world—es­pecially in Hispanic regions. But Our Lady of Guadalupe is the Lady for all the Americas, and it was well past time for me to pay my respects.

Mexico City, if you’ve never been there, is filled with both the worst traffic and the nicest people you’ll ever meet. Each day there I marveled that people could remain so kind, so generous and smiling, when it took forever to drive even short distances. And yet I would return to the city just for the pleasure of spending time among them.

The shrine, when you first ap­proach it, appears as a cluster of old and new church buildings sitting on Tepeyac Hill, surrounded by the har­um-scarum sprawl of one of the largest cities in the world. Like most pilgrims I tried to visualize the moment nearly five centuries ago when this rocky hill stood far apart from the palaces of the Aztec empire.

The words I particularly kept in mind were those that Mary spoke to Juan Diego on the day he was avoid­ing her and seeking a priest for his dy­ing uncle, Juan Bernardino:

Listen, and let it penetrate your heart, my dear little son. Do not be troubled or weighed down with grief. Do not fear any illness or vexation, anxiety or pain. Am I not here who am your Mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection? Am I not your fountain of life? Are you not in the folds of my mantle? In the crossing of my arms? Is there any­thing else you need?

Among the many aspects of this story, this was the one most meaningful to me: How can any of us be so consumed by life’s tasks—even a task as impor­tant as tending a dying relative—that we forget to ask for divine help?

The shrine itself and the plaza that fronts it bear the stamp of Sev­enties utilitarianism in architecture, but once you enter the sanctuary that houses the sacred tilma (cloak), all those concerns are swept aside by the peace that descends upon the pilgrim. I arrived just in time to light my can­dles, ride the moving sidewalk under the tilma, and join the other pilgrims for Mass.

Perhaps you’ve experienced the sense of total comfort in an otherwise strange place. I had been advised by a bishop who loves the shrine to “ask for something big.” But Mary gave me something I didn’t ask for—an ease in prayer that was totally unexpected, as if something that had been clogging the lines of communication had been suddenly removed.

After Mass I went back down be­hind the altar for another look at the tilma but stepped aside to observe in­stead the faces of those pilgrims gaz­ing up at it. The radiance of piety transcends language and culture—its impact is universal. No wonder our Holy Father has been commending Marian pilgrimages from the earliest days of his pontificate. I’m sorry it took me so long.

I walked up the lovely ceramic-lined steps to the top of the hill and down to the gardens on the other side. But I didn’t want the solitude offered by the gardens; I went back to the plaza to look at the pilgrim faces and become one more face among them, transport­ed by the sense that nothing needs to be withheld from Mary’s care.

Published in Crisis Magazine, October 1, 2004

Dominant-Issue Voters

By Deal W. Hudson

Several Catholic leaders have recently commented that Catholics should not be “single issue” voters, meaning that they shouldn’t vote exclusively on the abortion issue. I agree. But it’s not necessary to be a single-issue voter to give the life issues the priority they deserve. Catholics should be “dominant issue” voters.

The Catholic Church proposes a vertical—not horizontal list of moral and social issues for political consideration. The life issues—including abortion, euthanasia, fetal stem-cell research, and cloning—are at the top of that hierarchy. These issues should be considered dominant in determining how to vote for two simple reasons: First, the protection of life—the right to life—is a moral principle that sits at the foundation of morality itself. And it’s one of the three foundational rights enumerated in the Declaration of Independence. There could be no right to liberty or happiness unless there were a living person in the first place.

Second, the Catholic injunction to oppose abortion is unqualified: Individuals are not required, or allowed, to make prudential judgments of the principle to a specific case. Appeals to private “conscience” cannot override this infallible teaching. In the Doctrinal Note on Some Questions Regarding the Participation of Catholics in Public Life, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger writes:

In this context, it must be noted also that a well-formed Christian conscience does not permit one to vote for a political program or an individual law which contradicts the fundamental contents of faith and morals. The Christian faith is an integral unity, and thus it is incoherent to isolate some particular element to the detriment of the whole of Catholic doctrine. A political commitment to a single isolated aspect of the Church’s social doctrine does not exhaust one’s responsibility towards the common good.

Opposition to abortion, therefore, binds every Catholic on pain of mortal sin; it admits of no exceptions. There is no question, then, that as the dominant issue, a politician’s position on abortion qualifies him or her for the Catholic vote. From the perspective of the Church, not all the policy positions taken by candidates are of equal importance. Catholics, by understanding themselves as dominant-issue voters, can preserve the hierarchy of values at the core of Church teaching while not ignoring the legitimate spectrum of issues important to political consideration.

Furthermore, by understanding the dominance of life issues, Catholics will overcome their confusion about the difference between moral principle and prudential judgment. Unlike the admonition against abortion, most of the general principles proposed in Church teaching can be implemented in a variety of ways; it’s simply a mistake to assume—as the left often does—that one kind of implementation is more “Catholic” than another.

(The bishops’ conference issues dozens of policy recommendations every congressional session on issues ranging from broadband legislation to minimum wage and partial-birth abortion. Unfortunately, the average Catholic doesn’t discriminate between simple policy recommendations made by the conference and doctrinal statements and often wrongly assumes that they have equal authority.)

One final advantage to the dominant-issue approach is that it can help close the unnecessary divide between pro-life Catholics and “social justice” Catholics. There’s a clear continuity between providing someone with food and shelter and the willingness to defend his life when it’s threatened. The Church often employs the phrase “social justice” when addressing “the conditions that allow associations or individuals to obtain what is their due, according to their nature and their vocation. Social justice is linked to the common good and the exercise of authority” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1928).

The demands of social justice, then, begin with the right to life and end with the right to be protected from euthanasia or the temptation of assisted suicide. It’s a mistake to detach the idea of social justice from the protection of vulnerable life: The source of moral obligation to protect the unborn and to feed the hungry is one and the same—the inherent dignity of the human person.

Published in Crisis Magazine, June 1, 2002