Crisis Magazine 2009

Will Benedict XVI Challenge Palestinian and Israeli Extremism?

Deal W. Hudson
May 7, 2009

An op-ed published in the New York Times on Tuesday by veteran Vatican reporter John L. Allen Jr. lists four ways Pope Benedict XVI can “move things forward in the Middle East.” He recommends the Holy Father endorse the two-state solution, call upon Palestinians to reject extremism, urge support for Holy Land Christians, and advise that Iran is included in regional discussions.

It’s easy to agree with all of Allen’s suggestions, in part, because he leaves out one of the most important – and most controversial – messages Benedict should consider sending: challenging Israel to reject its own extremism, specifically, the confiscation of Palestinian land and the building of settlements that is turning the West Bank into a series of enclosed “cantons.”

Every Israeli settlement creates an additional barrier and greater military presence on the West Bank. Along with the rise of Hamas, the Israeli settlements are the greatest obstacles to the two-state solution. This rapid acceleration of settlements is one of the “Ten Hard Facts Facing Benedict XVI in the Holy Land.”

I just returned from guiding a delegation of Catholic leaders on a Holy Land pilgrimage, and I agree with Allen that the pope’s visit could have a huge impact at a time when the situation has gone from bad to worse. The 21-day Gaza incursion, combined with the election of Benjamin Netanyahu, has virtually snuffed all hope on the West Bank for an end to the 40-year Israeli occupation.

Frankly, I was surprised that none of the Palestinian Christians I interviewed wanted Benedict to make this visit. When Pope John Paul II came in 2000, they expected a change for the better. Unfortunately, they’ve seen nothing of the sort; peace grows more and more remote as Israeli settlements, security walls, and fences reach further into Palestinian land.

The last thing Palestinian Christians want is for Benedict’s visit to be manipulated by the media as an affirmation of Israel’s present treatment of Palestinians, especially those Gazans who saw their land destroyed by Israeli bombers.

The same Christians I interviewed recommended that the pope visit Gaza. The area’s only Catholic priest, Msgr. Manuel Massalem, said recently that “this is not the right moment to come,” and he will ask the pope “why he came, what he intends on saying to the Christians, the Jews, the Muslims, and why he isn’t coming to Gaza.”

A few days ago in Jerusalem, Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal ended any speculation about a possible visit to that shattered region. “The pope cannot go to Gaza. It was easier to bring Gaza to the pope,” he said and disclosed the fact that the Vatican had asked for 200 to 250 travel permits for Gazan Christians to participate in papal events.

At this time, there is still no word as to whether Israel has issued these permits, or where exactly the Gazans would join the Holy Father. The most likely place would be the Mass in Bethlehem on May 13.

For Israel to issue those travel permits would be of no small significance. One of the major complaints of Palestinian Christians is the restriction on travel that keeps them from visiting sacred sites. Many have never worshipped at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, traveled the Stations of the Cross along the Via Dolorosa, or walked in the Garden of Gethsemane.

If Benedict challenges both Palestinian and Israeli extremism, it will send a strong message that the only solution is one that recognizes the legitimate rights of both the Abrahamic communities.

Obama Tries to Save Healthcare Reform… and His Presidency

Deal W. Hudson
September 10, 2009

With his popularity ratings plummeting and public resistance to his health-care reform proposals increasing, President Barack Obama spoke to Congress and a national television audience for 48 minutes last night. Though touted as his “health-care speech,” the more important subtext was the future of Obama’s presidency itself.

He has let it be known that his legacy and health-care reforms are one and the same. Last July, Obama warned a Democratic congressman, “You are going to destroy my presidency,” if the House of Representatives did not pass a health-care bill. The GOP sees it the same way, as Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) has put it: “If we’re able to stop Obama on this [health care], it will be his Waterloo.”

When in need of a political lift, Obama uses television to communicate directly with the American people, rhetorical persuasion having long been considered his strong suit. But it’s unlikely that his eloquence – over-praised, in my opinion – will make much of a difference. The nation’s mood has changed drastically over the past three months, with 52 percent of respondents in a recent poll disapproving of his handling of health care. An astonishing 49 percent now disapprove of his presidency.

So, how did Obama do last night? His delivery was animated, sometimes rousing, but his substance did not offer anything new, except a limp gesture toward exploring medical malpractice tort reform. Democrats sat impassively as Obama told the secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius, to commence “demonstration projects in individual states to test these issues.”

Obama’s broad smile at the cheers and applause from the Republicans was a pleasant moment of relief from the predictable standing ovations of the Democrats. (Was this a brief glimpse of the “likable” Obama I have heard so much about?)

Did he answer the challenge of the Catholic League’s Bill Donohue and address head-on the issue of abortion? Not really – he just repeated what he has said before: “No federal dollars will be used to fund abortion.” Yet, as Douglas Johnson, the legislative director of the National Right to Life Committee, explains, “Obama brazenly misrepresented the abortion-related component of the health care legislation that his congressional allies and staff have crafted.”

Johnson points out that the present legislation requires anyone enrolled in the government plan to pay premiums “calculated to cover the cost of all elective abortions – this would not be optional.” In other words, Obama is not calling these premiums “federal funds,” because they are not taxes. But, as Johnson says, “These are merely two types of public funds, collected and spent by government agencies.”

Want further proof that Obama is misrepresenting the reform? Obama and others in the Democratic leadership have been unwilling to support amendments clearly stipulating the very thing the president says is already the case: that no federal dollars will pay for abortion.

President Obama added a comment on another issue of interest to Catholics, saying that “federal conscience laws will remain in place.” Obama didn’t mention that on March 6 he removed the conscience protection for pro-life medical personnel put in place at the end of Bush’s second term, leaving nothing in its place.

On the controversial question of the public option, President Obama placed it within the health insurance “exchange” that he proposed as a way of providing affordable coverage for the uninsured. He promised that taxpayers would not subsidize the public option; it would have to rely entirely on premiums. Presumably, this public option insurance would be both unsubsidized and less expensive than private insurance, because it would be run as a not-for-profit.

It’s fitting that Obama referred to the traditional “healthy skepticism of government” of most Americans. To believe that the government can run a non-profit health-insurance company so efficiently that its low overhead will provide for premiums lower than private insurance companies is a true act of faith. Medicare and Medicaid presently have between $80-120 billion of fraud. Why would this new government medical entity be any different?

The same skepticism applies to his much-repeated claim that his $900 billion programs would “not add one dime to the deficit,” because the money would be found by eliminating waste within the present health-care system.

Finally, it was a mistake, in my opinion, to cap the evening with a tribute to Ted Kennedy. His encomium to the late senator was a symbolic reminder of the pro-abortion forces (much of it Catholic) behind health-care reform. In Kennedy’s letter to Obama, he called health care a “moral issue” that reveals “the character of our country.” Precisely. In tonight’s speech, President Obama failed to clear the air about the moral issue at the heart of health care. Until he clearly repudiates abortion coverage, the character of the nation remains at risk.

Playing the Race Card and the Sin of Slander

Deal W. Hudson
September 17, 2009

On Tuesday, former president Jimmy Carter told NBC Nightly News, “I think an overwhelming portion of the intensely demonstrated animosity toward President Barack Obama is based on the fact that he is a black man, that he’s African-American.”

I have some questions for Carter: On what grounds do you label thousands of people as racists? Where is your evidence? Did you consider the Eighth Commandment – thou shalt not bear false witness against your neighbor – when you made that accusation?

The same questions should be asked of the growing chorus of Obama supporters who are playing the race card. Calling someone a racist is a serious matter, and anyone making the accusation should have substantial evidence to back it up. Otherwise, they are merely slandering an opponent for political purposes and should be ashamed of themselves.

One Catholic commentator making this accusation is Michael Sean Winters, who wrote at the America magazine blog about the demonstration in Washington, D.C., last Saturday:

But, watching and listening, it is difficult not to conclude that the strong sense of grievance, the idea that “Nobody’s standing up for us!” as one man from Tennessee put it, was not only to restore certain constitutional principles, but the social hierarchy that prevailed in earlier times, a hierarchy that kept blacks on the lowest rungs of society.

Just how is it “difficult not to conclude” these people are racists, simply because they don’t feel represented by either the Obama White House or the Democratic majority in Congress? Applying Occam’s razor, the most obvious explanation is this: These are conservative Americans who are disgusted with an administration spending their tax dollars to assume control of one industry after another, with the nation’s medical care hanging in the balance.

Were there some racists among the masses of people on the National Mall last Saturday? Almost certainly. But to claim racial discontent was integral to the overall complaint about a lack of political representation is pure speculation, damaging to the reputation of the accuser and the accused.

Winters revisited the question of racism today, acknowledging, “Obviously, not all opposition to Obama is racist.” This means, of course, some of it is, but that was not the accusation he originally made. He adds, “Most of those who oppose the President are not racists,” which leads me to ask, “What does Winters mean by most?” If 49 percent of the population oppose Obama – and that’s a lot of people – are they racists?

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “Slander is an offense against the truth” (2475). The Catechism also reminds Catholics that we should respect the “reputation of persons” and avoid “every attitude or word likely to cause them unjust injury” (2477).

These charges of racism against critics of the Obama administration by the Democrats in Congress and others are slanderous. Why? Because Jimmy Carter and Michael Sean Winters have no knowledge of the people they have labeled, beyond what they have seen on television.

Need I repeat that such a serious charge as racism should be based upon presentable evidence, or what the Catechism calls an “objectively valid reason”? In fact, the Catechism goes even further and counsels Catholics that, “to avoid rash judgment, everyone should be careful to interpret insofar as possible his neighbor’s thoughts, words, and deeds in a favorable way” (2478).

Winters, however, was relatively polite compared to the ranting of the New York Times’ Maureen Dowd, who interviewed Democrat Don Fowler, who teaches politics at the University of South Carolina:

It may be President Obama’s very air of elegance and erudition that raises hackles in some. My father used to say to me, “Boy, don’t get above your raising.” Some people are prejudiced anyway, and then they look at his education and mannerisms and get more angry at him.

What we have here is a former Democratic Party political operative turned academic applying an Old South racist attitude to the minds of millions of Americans who simply don’t like the direction the country is going under Barack Obama. When Dowd quotes Fowler with approval, she becomes a party to the kind of moral generalization about a group of people that used to be considered ill-advised and ignorant.

President Obama, to his credit, has tried to tone down this name-calling, at least in the case of Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC). This is a smart move, because slanderous accusations of racism aren’t going to silence the criticism, and they certainly aren’t going to raise the level of debate over important issues like health care and Iran’s growing nuclear threat.

A University of Dallas Alumnus Sets His Sights on Congress

Deal W. Hudson
September 24, 2009

At age 37 and married only a month, Kevin Calvey volunteered for deployment in Iraq. When he returned to his wife, Toni, in Oklahoma City a year later – 2008 – he restarted his private law practice but was soon alarmed by the “dire situation” of our nation. It was then that Calvey decided to run for Congress from the 5th Congressional District of his hometown.

Calvey, a 1988 graduate of the University of Dallas, is one more unapologetically pro-life Catholic running for national office. Last year we profiled Tom Rooney (R-FL) and Joseph Cao (R-LA), both of whom went on to win seats in Congress.

Before the general election, however, Calvey faces four challengers for the GOP nomination. Of the five candidates, Calvey told me over the phone, “I am the most conservative and the most pro-life.” When I asked him whether he was concerned about being hurt politically by his outspoken defense of life and marriage, his response was quick, “This is why I got started in politics in the first place; if it hurts me, so be it.”

A graduate of Georgetown University Law School, Calvey’s year in Iraq was spent prosecuting terrorists for high crimes in Iraqi courts. Bombs were often heard exploding nearby as he worked his cases, and he received verbal death threats on several occasions by members of al-Qaeda.

His Iraq experience has led Calvey to have very definite views about foreign policy: “I was face-to-face with over 100 terrorists – many of them will never quit trying to kill us. We must engage them effectively before they overcome us and change our way of life.”

As a fiscal conservative, Calvey laments the overspending of the last administration but says with Obama it has gone “from bad to worse.” “The level of our national debt is unsustainable and immoral,” he told me. To illustrate, Calvey used the example of his ten-month-old daughter, Anastasia, who was born is $30,000 in debt by virtue of being a future taxpayer.

When asked what the key issue will be in the upcoming nomination battle, Calvey answered, “The voters are wondering who they can actually trust.” He sees himself in a better position than his opponents to fill that need since he represents no special interests and is a reform-minded politician ready to oppose the growth of government and its intrusions on individual and family freedom.

For example, Calvey completely rejects a government takeover of medical care: “A government solution is almost always worse.” Instead, he proposes a tax break to individuals who purchase their own health insurance to provide an incentive for controlling consumption and creating portability. He also advocates the purchase of health insurance across state lines, as well as tort reform.

Calvey is no political beginner. His first experience in politics was as an intern at National Right to Life in Washington, D.C. He was elected to the Oklahoma legislature in 1998, the first Republican and Catholic ever to represent Del City. He joined the Army National Guard in 2003, and after losing in his first run for Congress in 2006, decided it was time to go to Iraq. His wife rather remarkably agreed that this was the right thing for her new husband to do after being married only month. “We talked almost every day on the phone, which was harder for her than for me.”

Whoever wins the GOP nomination in the 5th Congressional District of Oklahoma will very likely win the general election and take his seat in Congress. This district, which includes Oklahoma City and a few adjacent cities to the east, has been heavily Republican since the 1970s. Kevin Calvey may well be joining the new wave of pro-life Catholic members of Congress who are setting a very different example from the generation symbolized by the late Sen. Ted Kennedy.

The Stupid Party May Learn a Lesson in Upstate New York

Deal W. Hudson
October 22, 2009

A special election will be held on November 3 in upstate New York that may send a much-needed message to the GOP. New York Congressional District 23 was put up for grabs when nine-term Rep. John McHugh, a Republican, resigned to become Secretary of the Army. The eleven Republican chairs of the district nominated Dede Scozzafava, a state assemblywoman, and the first female minority leader pro tempore.

The social conservative wing of the GOP, well into a mounting rage over the direction of the nation under President Barack Obama, wasn’t in the mood to accept a pro-choice, pro-homosexual marriage candidate endorsed by the Working Families Party, known for its close ties to ACORN.

Michele Malkin summarized the reaction to Scozzafava in her column titled, “An ACORN-Friendly, Big-Labor Backing, Tax-and-Spend Radical in GOP Clothes.” Malkin’s comments were all iterations on her opening salvo: “The stupid party is at it again.”

The Conservative Party of New York, a group with considerable clout, decided not to endorse Scozzafava, nominating instead one of the defeated GOP candidates, the staunchly pro-life Doug Hoffman. Since then, Hoffman has become something of a rallying point for social conservatives, appearing on the radio shows of Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin, and the red-hot Glen Beck.

Hoffman’s biography reads like a classic American rags-to-riches tale: A humble accountant who served in the U.S. Army Reserves, he unexpectedly became the corporate controller of the 1980 Olympic Games in Lake Placid, and later went on to become the managing partner of his own accounting firm. In addition, his record of community service suggests a man who has come to politics as a second thought, rather than a first.

The GOP is not so split over New York District 23 as it is splintered. Chairman of the House Republican Caucus, Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN), refuses to endorse Scozzafava, while Newt Gingrich and Rep. Peter King (R-NY) have come to her aid. An op-ed in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal framed the controversy this way:

The real issue is why Ms. Scozzafava is a Republican at all. She has voted for so many tax increases that the Democrats are attacking her as a tax raiser. She supported the Obama stimulus, and she favors ‘card check’ to make union organizing easier.

When Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List endorsed Hoffman rather than Scozzafava, she wrote, “It’s gravely disappointing that the Republican Party chose to nominate a candidate whose position flies in the face of the actual pro-life party platform.” She was echoing the views of dozens of social conservative leaders I spoke to yesterday at two separate meetings in Washington, D.C. They were clearly hoping that the Republican Party was going to be taught a lesson about standing up for its core principles and its platform.

Can Hoffman beat both the Republican nominee and the Democratic candidate, Bill Owens? Bill Kristol at the Weekly Standard argued several days ago that the polling is in Hoffman’s favor. It shows that the more voters know Scozzafava, the less they support her. As Kristol comments, “By an amazing margin of 28-12 percent, those who’ve seen Scozzafava’s commercials say those ads make them less likely to support her.”

The Republican establishment is busy trying to prop up a candidate who doesn’t even come close to identifying with traditional GOP values, especially those of its social conservatives. This may well lead to a Democratic victory, but it’s likely that Hoffman will still come out ahead of Scozzafava, sending a clear message that Republican voters want candidates who will fight against the direction of the Obama White House, not play along with it.

Republicans have lost the last two elections in part because they did not do anything to rally the social and religious conservatives who have been decisive in every election victory since 1980. The McCain campaign was the nadir of that lack of effort, so much so that it has become the touchstone of every tactical discussion among social conservatives about how to rally in 2010 and 2012.

Indeed, those social conservatives are mounting major grassroots efforts that are self-described as “outside of the Republican Party.” Perhaps the message is already being sent.

Bethlehem University Student Deported to Gaza

Deal W. Hudson
November 2, 2009

Berlanty (Betty) Azzam was two months away from receiving her business degree at Bethlehem University. Anticipating life beyond college, she made the two-hour trip to Ramallah for a job interview, but on the way back she was asked for her papers at the “container” checkpoint. Azzam was detained by the Israeli military for five hours, sent to the Sharon Detention Center in Netanya, and eventually blindfolded, handcuffed, put into a military vehicle, and deported to Gaza where her family resides. Lawyers from the Latin Patriarchate in Jerusalem, which encompasses both the West Bank and Israel, tried to intervene with the military, but with no success.

Though born in Kuwait, Azzam grew up in Gaza. Her father, Jiries Azzam, works for the YMCA; her mother, Evette, teaches for the UN Relief and Works Agency, and both her brothers live in the United Arab Emirates.

In August 2005, Azzam left Gaza with a temporary travel permit allowing her to visit the West Bank. She did not return to Gaza until the Israeli military returned her forcibly on October 28. Azzam had taken the risk of not returning to Gaza knowing it was her only way to attend Bethlehem University, the only Catholic university on the West Bank.

Writing to me from Gaza, Azzam was still quite shaken by her treatment at the checkpoint: “They didn’t tell me anything and treated me like a like criminal. They had no reason to blindfold and handcuff me.” The fact that she was carrying a university ID verifying her status at Bethlehem University made no difference.

Br. Jack Curran, F.S.C., vice president of development at Bethlehem University, told me that a petition against Azzam’s deportation has been filed in Israeli courts. Attorneys for Israel have been ordered by the courts to submit a preliminarily written reply to the petition by November 3.

Brother Curran has written to the Israeli government asking that Azzam is allowed to return to Bethlehem University “on compassionate and humanitarian grounds… She has not been accused of being a security threat and has committed no crime.”

His letter also cited the “Agreement on Movement and Access” negotiated between the Palestinian Authority and Israel in 2005 that was facilitated by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. “I believe permitting her to return to Bethlehem to complete her degree also would be in the spirit of the agreement.”

Azzam’s desire to study at Bethlehem University is shared by many others. One Palestinian Liberation Organization source I spoke with told me there are 19 students already admitted to the university still waiting in Gaza to get a permit to come study on the West Bank. The man – whose family is from Beit Jala, the town adjacent to Bethlehem – is very familiar with the struggle of students at the university. “Before 2000, almost 10 percent of the students at Bethlehem University was from Gaza. Today there are just two students, both young women left.”

For Israel to allow Azzam to return to Bethlehem to receive her degree would be both humanitarian and compassionate, as Brother Curran urged. But it would also be good politics. Israel should go even further and make it possible for the 19 students from Gaza to study at Bethlehem University. This institution, founded by the Christian Brothers in 1973, is one of the keys to the future of peace in the region if peace is ever to come.

Letting Azzam return to Bethlehem is a move Israel can afford to make, and it would be a gesture of goodwill at a time when good news is in short supply on the West Bank.

♦ ♦ ♦

Brother Curran encourages all those who are concerned about Betty Azzam’s future to go to the State Department Web site and fill out this form, urging them to request Israel that Azzam is allowed to return to Bethlehem University and finish her degree.

Fake Catholic Groups Working Overtime for Healthcare Bill

Deal W. Hudson
December 14, 2009

It’s sad to report, but report we must: The same fake Catholic groups that helped President Barack Obama get elected have rallied to the cause of the health-care bill, abortion funding and all. As reported by, Catholics United (CU) and Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good (CACG) are warning Catholics not to get too hung up on things like federal funding of abortion.

Interviewed by the Christian Science Monitor, CU president Chris Korzen commented, “The wrong thing would be for anyone to be so firmly entrenched in their positions on federal funding of abortion that they’re not willing to come to the table and talk about a compromise.”

Victoria Kovari, the interim president of Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, claimed, “We share all the bishops’ concerns,” adding that the “difference is [our] feeling that we would be morally remiss if we walked away from all of the health care [reform]. We have to take seriously our call to be about what’s good for the whole human family.”

In other words, pass the health-care bill, even if it contains abortion funding. This is precisely the kind of proportionalist reasoning that I fear many Catholics are using to brush aside concerns about abortion funding: The evil of abortion, those like Korzen and Kovari argue, is offset by the many benefits of health-care reform.

Catholic teaching explicitly rejects such self-justifying tactics (see Veritatis Splendor 75), and the U.S. bishops have been unwavering on this point. As Richard Doerflinger, associate director of the USCCB Pro-Life Secretariat, remarks in the same CSM article, “There are moral absolutes that we can’t get beyond.”

Kovari evidently doesn’t believe the bishops would help defeat the health-care bill because of abortion funding. She told the New York Times, “There are certainly some strident voices out there that want to see health care reform abandoned on the back of this issue, but I don’t think that is where the bishops are.”

Kovari, in fact, does rub elbows with people who know the USCCB from the inside. Her predecessor – Alexia Kelley – worked for the USCCB before CACG. (Kelley left when appointed by Obama to work in the faith-based office of the Department of Health and Human Services.) CACG’s treasurer-secretary is Francis Xavier Doyle, who worked for the USCCB for 24 years. Tom Gehring, deputy communications director, was assistant director for media relations at the USCCB.

In a fascinating article on billionaire George Soros’s funding of Catholic groups, Cliff Kincaid notes that Tom Chabolla, now assistant to the president of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and its representative to the CACG board, formerly worked as associate director for the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) at the USCCB (during the period CCHD was funding ACORN.) While at the USCCB in 2004, Chabolla addressed a statewide meeting in Sacramento devoted to “increasing voter participation in Catholic parishes.” In 2008, after leaving the USCCB, Chabolla served on Obama’s National Catholic Advisory Council. (See Frank Walker’s interesting article on other members of the CACB advisory council.)

Kovari grew up in a working-class Romanian neighborhood in Detroit. According to her CACG biography, “For the last 27 years, Kovari has worked as a community organizer, political consultant, and non-profit housing developer. Prior to her joining the alliance, she worked as an organizer with MOSES, an affiliate of the Gamaliel Foundation, directing campaigns in Michigan for regional mass transit and health care.” The Gamaliel Foundation is the same group where President Obama began his career as a community organizer in Chicago.

Kovari doesn’t agree with the “strident voices” who would oppose the health-care bill if it contains abortion funding, yet after the passage of the House version of the bill containing the Stupak-Pitts Amendment, she was quoted by Catholic News Service calling the House bill “a victory for all people who believe in the fundamental dignity of every human life,” adding:

Catholics across the political spectrum speak with one voice in supporting health care reform that promotes the common good and protects the sanctity of all human life by providing families and children with quality, affordable health care.

If the House bill was a victory, then the Senate bill must be a defeat for everyone who believes in “the fundamental dignity of every human life.” Why not say so – instead of shilling for a piece of legislation that runs directly contrary to a non-negotiable teaching of the Church?

With their close connections to powerful Democrats, labor unions, and funding organizations, both CACG and CU should use their leverage to remove the abortion-funding loopholes from the health-care bills, rather than looking for ways to justify them.

On Condoms – More Dostoevsky, Less Catechesis

Deal W. Hudson
November 29, 2010

Catholics are obsessed with rules about what can and cannot be done. Contraception, abortion, women in the priesthood, even kneeling for the Eucharist are often subjects of controversy whenever Catholics discuss their faith.

Thus, when Pope Benedict XVI made his now-famous comment in Light of the World about condoms, it was inevitable that his utterance would be treated as a new rule. The media is reporting that Catholics may now use condoms during sexual intercourse to avoid transferring HIV.

There is, of course, no new rule about condom use: The Church still teaches that contraception during intercourse between a man and woman is forbidden, even in the case where one or the other is HIV positive.

What Benedict actually said is much more interesting than what is being wrongly reported by the media. The Holy Father was probing into an imagined individual’s moral psychology, rather than rehearsing a new item in the next edition of the Catechism.

The context of the condom comment was his response to a question about how to fight the spread of AIDS in Africa. The Holy Father described how the “fixation” on condoms has led to the “banalization” of sexuality, where it is no longer viewed as an “expression of love, but only a sort of drug that people administer to themselves.”

Up to this point in the conversation with Peter Seewald, the pope is simply reiterating the Church’s teaching as stated, for example, in Humanae Vitae.

But then another thought occurred to one-time professor Benedict – a situation in which the use of a condom might be considered a moral act.

There may be a basis in the case of some individuals, as perhaps when a male prostitute uses a condom, where this can be a first step in the direction of a moralization, a first assumption of responsibility, on the way toward recovering an awareness that not everything is allowed and that one cannot do whatever one wants. But it is not really the way to deal with the evil of HIV infection. That can really lie only in a humanization of sexuality.

The Holy Father imagines the moment when a prostitute while conducting business, becomes concerned about the physical well-being of his or her customer – wanting to keep that person from being infected by a deadly disease.

Reflections on the moral psychology of a prostitute are not what you normally expect from a pontiff. Benedict’s imagining that, even in the midst of such degrading labor, a person can become aware of the moral dimension of sexuality seems to belong more to the substance of a Dostoevsky novel than the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

Benedict’s observation is much more interesting, more morally probative, than what has enthralled the media for more than a week. It’s grounded in the Catholic anthropology of the human person’s natural desire for God, the good, and happiness.

There’s no aggregate of sinful habits or base acts that can remove this desire completely. As a result, it’s a human propensity that can find expression at any moment and in any circumstance. Conversion, so to speak, is a perennial possibility.

If Benedict had further developed his observation about the imagined prostitute, he might have come to the conclusion he was no longer talking about condoms as understood by the Church. Condom use is banned for Catholics because it is a means of contraception. When a condom is put to other uses, however – whether as a balloon or a medical device to inhibit infection – it is no longer functioning as a condom.

Some will say this is just a play on words; but for Catholics who have been brought up to identify condoms with contraception, it’s important to insist upon the distinction.

Once we move past the obsession with the rule about contraceptives, Catholics and non-Catholics alike may notice that Benedict was giving a message of hope to those involved, whether by choice or circumstance, in degrading and dehumanizing actions.

The pope is reminding all of us that, regardless of how far we fall or how much we fail, we remain God’s children, and our desire for Him can never be extinguished.

Closing Ranks on Canon 915

Deal W. Hudson

Gov. Kathleen Sebelius received some good news last week when abortionist Dr. George Tiller was found not guilty of breaking state laws regulating late-term abortion. The relationship between Tiller and Sebelius would surely have played a role in her upcoming confirmation hearings had he been found guilty.

But Governor Sebelius got some bad news as well — something not noticed much in Catholic media or the secular press. The bishops of Washington, D.C., and Arlington, Virginia, confirmed publicly they would uphold the declaration of her ordinary, Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City, stating that Governor Sebelius should not present herself for communion.

A spokeswoman for the Washington Archdiocese, Susan Gibbs, said Archbishop Donald Wuerl would expect Sebelius to follow Bishop Naumann’s request while in Washington. Joelle Santolla, spokeswoman for the Arlington Diocese, announced that Bishop Paul Loverde would expect the same while she was in Northern Virginia.

That Archbishop Wuerl and Bishop Loverde would back up Bishop Naumann in regard to the future Secretary of Health and Human Services is a significant development in the effort of some bishops to enforce Canon 915: “Those upon whom the penalty of excommunication or interdict has been imposed or declared, and others who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin, are not to be admitted to holy communion.”

This will send the message to other bishops that if they choose to pronounce members of Congress from their dioceses unfit for communion, their authority will be respected in D.C. and across the Potomac in Virginia. The ramifications are enormous: For example, if Sean Cardinal O’Malley of Boston stated publicly that Sen. John Kerry was in violation of Canon 915, he would not have been able to receive communion at Pope Benedict XVI’s Mass in Washington, D.C., a year ago. Rep. Nancy Pelosi would not have been able to celebrate her elevation to speaker of the House with a special Mass at Trinity College,
if Archbishop Neiderhauer had found her wanting according to the standard of Canon 915.

Some will argue that neither Archbishop Wuerl nor Bishop Loverde will attempt, through their priests, to deny Governor Sebelius communion. But this misses the point, and the significance, of how the combined statements of Bishops Naumann, Wuerl, and Loverde have created a new and more vulnerable situation for the pro-abortion Catholic members of Congress. As Archbishop Raymond Burke has explained, Bishop Naumann did not impose a “sanction” on Governor Sebelius; Bishop Naumann asked Sebelius, not the clergy, to apply Canon 915 to herself.

But if Sebelius were to receive communion in D.C. or Northern Virginia, it would likely generate a news story that would mushroom quickly, involving the priest who administered communion and his bishop. This is not news coverage that Sebelius, or the Obama administration, would want to deal with.

No doubt there are priests in both dioceses who would have little compunction about giving communion to pro-abortion Catholic politicians, but whether they want to get into a media-generated spat with their bishop over a high-profile politician is another matter.
A final point: Archbishop Wuerl and Bishop Loverde’s collegial response to Bishop Naumann destabilizes the relationship between pro-abortion Catholic politicians and their bishops back home. The question will arise as to why Governor Sebelius should be the only politician in Washington who has been called to account under Canon 915. What about the dozens of others in Congress who have a 100 percent pro-abortion voting record? What about Vice-President Joe Biden himself?

Will other bishops seize this opportunity to apply Canon 915 to politicians in their dioceses, knowing that Archbishop Wuerl and Bishop Loverde will back them up? Given the determination of the Obama administration and the Congress to roll back all restrictions on abortion, I wouldn’t be surprised.

Published in Crisis Magazine, March 30, 2009