Abortion Obsessed Catholic Bishops Betray Pope Francis – and Jesus

It seems the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) can’t stop embarrassing itself.

No, I’m not referring this time to its incompetent mishandling and scandalous coverups of priest pedophiles. (By rights, those disgraces should themselves deprive the Conference of ALL claims to speak authoritatively on ANY matter having to do with sex.)

 instead, I’m talking about the latest manifestation of the USCCB’s obsession with abortion.

As if we needed a reminder, its fixation with the matter came under harsh spotlight on June 18th when an overwhelming majority of the Bishops’ Conference decided to proceed with drafting a document whose bottom line would have them refusing communion to Joe Biden (and by extension to other pro-choice Catholic politicians).

The whole affair made evident first of all that the bishops are pronouncing on an issue far beyond their ken. Secondly, their action flies in the face of position adopted by Pope Francis himself. Thirdly, it aligns the bishops with the most extreme faction of the Republican Party. And finally, it is quite unbiblical and contradicts the teachings of Jesus and his expression of the Judeo-Christian prophetic tradition.

For thinking Catholics, all four points should be quite embarrassing. For others, it’s just one more reason to write off the Church as completely irrelevant.   

Unsubstantiated Obsession with Abortion

The evident purpose of the Conference’s strategy is to advance repeal of Roe v Wade as if it were morally self-evident that (as they say) “abortion is murder.”

Of course, no such self-evidence exists. This is because the question of abortion’s morality turns on the issue of when specifically personal human life begins. And NO ONE knows for sure the answer to that question. Even the seminal Catholic theologian Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) thought that personal life (“ensoulment”) for males began 40 days after conception and for females 80 days after conception. The church operated on that assumption for centuries.

Moreover, other religions variously identify the beginnings of personal life with the moment of quickening (usually 17-20 weeks after conception), with viability outside the womb, with actual emergence from the womb, or even (as with some Native Americans) with the “painting” of the child to distinguish it from the animals. 

In view of such variation, to impose a single religion’s answer to the crucial question about the beginning of personal life disrespects those of other faiths and of no faith at all. It is therefore to violate the Constitution’s First Amendment which states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. . .”

(And, by the way, the USCCB’s extreme position that specifically personal life begins when sperm fertilizes egg contradicts the “practice” of Nature itself. It ignores the fact that literally countless such fertilizations end in spontaneous abortions – suggesting that Nature itself (God?)  is unconcerned with the issue.)

A Rejection of Pope Francis

The Catholic Bishops’ ham-handed power play also flies in the face of gentle advice from Pope Francis. Instead of confrontation and effective excommunication, the Pope urged “extensive and serene dialogue.”

The Conference position also contrasted sharply with Francis’ allies like Chicago’s Cardinal Blase Cupich and San Diego Bishop Robert McElroy. Both urged adoption of the pope’s approach, which McElroy described as speaking to Mr. Biden “in his humanity” and as “a man of Catholic faith striving to serve his nation and his God.” McElroy recommended encouragement of “our new President: by entering into a relationship of dialogue, not judgment; collaboration, not isolation; truth in charity, not harshness.”

However, USCCB disagreement with Francis goes much further. It is not simply an internecine squabble about arcane Catholic issues. Identifying abortion as “the preeminent priority” of the bishops’ conference highlights disagreement at the highest level of the Catholic Church about the essence of the faith. For Francis, the Church’s preeminent priority is social justice and a radical concern for “the lives of the poor, those already born, the destitute, the abandoned and the underprivileged.”  His pro-life commitments extend far beyond abortion to climate justice, elimination of capital punishment, renunciation of war, and welcoming of immigrants.

Of course, all such concerns are rejected by Republican extremists with whom the USCCB ends up aligning itself.

Alignment with Extremists

Such alignment was noted recently by Washington Post opinion columnist E.J. Dionne Jr. Dionne pointed to a relevant Pew Research survey of last spring. It showed that even 44% of Republican Catholics agree with the 67% of American Catholics in general that Biden should be allowed to receive communion.

This means that in adopting their position on weaponizing communion, the U.S. bishops are identifying themselves with the most conservative elements of the Republican Party which, of course, has also made abortion a key culture wars issue.

This alignment means supporting election of Republicans whose climate change denial ends up favoring omnicide while claiming to prioritize unborn human life.

Moreover, Dionne correctly observes that the bishops’ position is an outlier in the Catholic world itself. Almost nowhere else is the abortion issue given the preeminence claimed by the USCCB. Its position would be unthinkable in most of Europe and Latin America.

Unbiblical Obsession with Abortion

Even though women have always practiced abortion, the Bible shows no concern for the issue; it is mentioned nowhere in its pages. Therefore, to make it the church’s “preeminent priority” over those articulated by the pope is questionable at the very least.

Moreover, seeking to remedy the practice of abortion by imposition of law flies in the face of the habitual antinomian postures of both Jesus and St. Paul. Neither was friendly towards legal statutes and their enforcers. Jesus routinely disobeyed Judaism’s most sacred (Sabbath) law. He famously asserted his indisputably humanist position that “The sabbath was made for human beings; human beings were not made for the sabbath” (Mark 2: 27).

For his part, Paul was so liberal in his interpretation of Jewish Testament law that he set it aside entirely – including dietary restrictions and even circumcision. It was futile, he said, to seek salvation in law – even in God’s law (e.g., Romans 7: 13-24).

By adopting such positions, both Jesus and Paul seemed to recognize that complicated issues of personal morality cannot be effectively imposed by law, force, or sanctions. Thus, the two most prominent foci of Christian Testament texts implicitly acknowledged the truism that human laws generally favor those who made them, viz., the wealthy and powerful – usually elderly males (and in our case, specifically white old men). Meanwhile, they militate against the interests of those without power or wealth and (in the case of abortion) seem to represent one more way of controlling women.

This is especially vexing for women, since the planet’s female citizens have had virtually no determining input regarding the content of laws that govern their reproductive processes.

The bottom line here is that law has no salvific power for friends of women or followers of Jesus.

Conclusion

Does any of this mean that church leaders should abandon the abortion issue? Not really.

It does however mean that leadership should recognize the fact that Roe v. Wade represents a reasonable resolution of the abortion question in a pluralistic society. It is an imperfect but even-handed compromise in a culture divided on fundamental questions concerning the beginnings of personal human life. It is reasonable that during the first trimester of pregnancy, the pregnant woman may herself decide about the termination of her pregnancy without legal consultation; that during the second trimester the state may regulate abortion to protect the health of its pregnant citizens, and that during the final three months of pregnancy, the state (in recognition of its obligation to protect the unborn) can accordingly forbid or otherwise condition pregnancy termination.

Meanwhile, the bishops and others seeking to lessen the number of abortions should use their influence to foster a welcoming atmosphere for all children. This would entail supporting measures that (among others) provide otherwise reluctant parents with:

  • The good example of Catholic practice
  • Preemptive sex education
  • Extensive prenatal care
  • Postpartum parental leave
  • Affordable childcare
  • Adequately paid jobs
  • Dignified housing
  • Safe abortion facilities

Only by adopting such pro-life positions can the USCCB hope to overcome the embarrassment that its patriarchal, legalistic and unbiblical alignment with the Republican Party has brought upon it and upon all Roman Catholics.

80th Birthday Reflections Part 5: The Priesthood & Disordered Celibacy

My first year in Rome, James Kavanaugh wrote a national best seller called A Modern Priest Looks at His Outdated Church. It was a general critique of the Catholic hierarchy for not going far enough with the Vatican II reforms. For Kavanaugh, the church was still too priest and hierarchy centered. It needed more democracy. 

However, what most of us remember about A Modern Priest was its rejection of celibacy as a prerequisite for ordination. The book sparked many discussions at the dinner and supper table where our community of 12-15 young priests took our meals each noon and evening.

There, debates about scripture, theology, politics were the liveliest and best-informed that I’ve ever experienced. And I took part with great enthusiasm. My studies at the Anselmo were radicalizing me. They took me beyond post-Vatican II positions I had previously never dreamed of regarding church reform, the inspiration of the Bible, Jesus’ divinity, Mary’s virginity, the Reformation, papal infallibility, the priesthood itself, and, of course, celibacy.

Reluctant Celibates   

Intense debates about that latter issue were influenced not only by Kavanaugh, but by the more general sexual revolution that was a central part of the ‘60s and ‘70s. The contraceptive pill had been introduced in 1960. And with the fear of unintended pregnancy largely shelved, sexual freedom became the watchword of the day. Priests were not immune from any of that.

Previously, I mentioned earlier my own concerns about “reluctant celibacy.” Every priest I knew shared them. In fact, as I traveled (on motor scooter) and worked with priests in Austria, Germany, France, Spain, England, Ireland, Scotland, Belgium, Poland and elsewhere during my summers in Europe, I couldn’t help but notice that some priests had openly set aside their reluctance. For all practical purposes, they had become married priests. (Later, in Brazil, Costa Rica and elsewhere in Latin America, Africa and India I came across evidence of the same phenomenon.)

That was one aspect of the priesthood and the sexual revolution; priests were voting with their feet against mandatory celibacy; mostly informally some were getting married. Another aspect was that priests in general were leaving in droves in order to marry; they were seeking Vatican dispensations from their vows – including 3/4 of those who had entered the high school seminary with me back in 1954. In fact, thousands upon thousands of priests worldwide were abandoning their vocations.

In between those two categories were priests I knew who had girlfriends – something totally unheard of in the church I had grown up in. There, particular female companionship was absolutely forbidden. Even more, it was entirely scandalous for ordained men to seek dispensation from their vows. And no one (at least in the U.S. church) would live openly with a female partner. At least, that was the church I knew.

The Big Ed Factor

The girlfriend phenomenon showed up with a vengeance on Corso Trieste with the arrival of a character called “Big Ed.” He was a bullshitter; there’s no other way of saying it. And he changed the atmosphere in our house. Not that he lived there, but he was greatly admired by a whole clique of my friends who did.

Big Ed claimed he was a priest. But I’m not sure about that. That’s because (as I said) he was an inveterate liar. His shtick was to tell the girls that he was Tom McNeely, the 1960s heavyweight prizefighter whom he apparently resembled. (He’d tell them that as he mixed, shared and downed pitchers of boilermakers.) I suspect the ruse worked with many women. But who knows if he was telling the truth about being a priest?

What I do know is that his shtick worked with that clique I mentioned. Not that they believed him about being McNeely. But they all thought he was very cool. And they certainly admired his savoir faire with the women. For a while there, it seemed that they went out clubbing with him almost every night. All of a sudden, every conversation the next morning at breakfast was about Big Ed this and Big Ed that. Suddenly the man was a legend; he could do no wrong.

I bring him up because Big Ed epitomized the changes I’m describing here around the issue of priestly celibacy. As the years lengthened following Vatican II, we all found ourselves loosening up in relation to the restrictions that were so much a part of our seminary lives. We were drinking more, clubbing more, and interacting more with women. Eventually, I was no exception – except in my doubts, suspicions, and reservations about Big Ed. Even according to my own more relaxed standards, he seemed over the top.

My Own Crisis

Yes, eventually, I succumbed – or rather, I would say I finally appropriated my own sexual identity and acceptance of close female friends. I made the decision to do so at the age of 30. I won’t go into detail about the resulting discoveries, relationships and repercussions – things that all of us have gone through, but at ages much earlier than 30.

Before any of that, my own decision was hastened by those lively discussions mentioned earlier. I mean my growing “radicalism” had not passed unnoticed by the rector of our house on Corso Trieste. So, one morning just before my 30th birthday, he said he wanted a word with me. I remember our walking together in our residence garden ‘round and ‘round the house in deep discussion.

The rector informed me that he had written a letter about me to the Columban Superior General. Because of what he heard me saying at table, the rector had identified me to our Society’s leadership as “dangerous” and unfit to teach in the seminary after the attainment of my doctoral degree. Moreover, the rector said, he was disturbed by the fact that some young females from a high school on our street had been seeking me out for spiritual guidance. He thought that was inappropriate and suspect.

I was completely shocked. First of all, I was amazed that the letter had been written before discussing it with me. But secondly, there was absolutely nothing inappropriate about those meetings with the girls in question. I was actually proud that my Italian was good enough to do something “pastoral” other than simply offering Mass at local churches and convents. (At this point, I was involved in an alternative, lay-led church connected with the high school. In the middle of each week, its members met to discuss and prepare the following Sunday’s liturgy. It was extremely inspiring). Thirdly, I knew that unlike others in our community, I was studiously avoiding relationships I still considered ill advised.

Processing It All

I remember subsequently writing such reflections in my diary. They drove me to think more deeply not only about celibacy, but about decision-making in the religious group I had joined and generally in the church. The celibacy obligation, I knew hadn’t been imposed on priests till about the 12th century. And it had largely originated from the desire on the part of church officials to protect ecclesiastical property from inheritance by the offspring of priests.

I now allowed myself to recognize that such avaricious motivation had created an entirely patriarchal, basically misogynist and hypocritical subculture. It inflicted guilt on young people for following the dictates of the second most powerful human drive (after self-preservation) viz. their sexual instinct (or as Darwin might put it, propagation of the species). The church did that in general. Practically speaking, it reduced faith to obsession with sex. It had in the process put unbearable burdens on unsuspecting young boys like me at the age of 14. In retrospect, all of that seemed like an unwitting form of abusing children too young to give informed consent. And then by the time age of consent was achieved, we were all too indoctrinated (not to say brainwashed) to escape.

With all of that more or less unconsciously in mind, the priests I was increasingly encountering were exercising what theologians called the “sensus fidelium” about celibacy. (Something similar had happened more widely regarding contraception and divorce.) As I was coming to understand it, that theologically recognized “sense of the faithful” referred to near unanimous agreement on the part of lay believers about a matter of faith or morals regardless of what the hierarchy might say. That implicit unanimity, I saw, had already been achieved among priests across the Catholic Church; they no longer believed in celibacy. Among other Christians, that consensus had long since been reached following the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century. Regardless of what the hierarchy might say, the people had spoken. In short, I concluded that celibacy was no longer a priestly obligation.

Conclusion

As I write these words, I’m not even sure I should be sharing their revelations. It would be very easy for readers to get the wrong idea judging harshly the young priests I’ve described (including myself) as hypocrites cynically unfaithful to a vow we had freely taken. It would be very easy to be shocked, repelled and (for Catholics) to feel somehow misled and even betrayed.

In retrospect however, I see it quite differently. As I knew them, the men in question had in no way abandoned their faith. They remained very good priests – compassionate, understanding, idealistic and kind. We were simply products of our time characterized by a sexual revolution that touched everyone.

Even more (as the great German theologian Karl Rahner put it) the young men in question were not sinners; rather, we had been sinned against. And the offending party was an ecclesiastical institution whose stubborn regulations had laid a nearly unbearable and certainly unnecessary burden on the shoulders of good willed, highly motivated youths who had accepted obligatory celibacy with little notion of its implications outside the seminary’s protective walls. We simply wanted to be priests, not celibates.

I’d go even further. The priests I’m talking about were implicitly or explicitly influenced by the very theological studies I’ve been celebrating here. Following Vatican II those studies affirmed the insights of secular disciplines such as history, sociology and psychology. Freud, Jung, and their successors had shown that the celibate decision involved much more than just saying no. And yet, no one was there to help priests figure out what that “more” entailed. In other words, many of us had moved from Rohr’s first “order” box into inevitable “disorder” around our celibacy. It would take most of us a long time and many errors before we could get to “reorder.”

(Next time: Political disorder)  

Ted Yoho & Small God Christians vs. AOC

Readings for 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Isaiah 55: 1-3; Psalm 145: 8-9, 15-18; Romans 8: 35-39; Matthew 14: 13-21

Nearly everyone is celebrating New York City Representative Alexandria Ocasio Cortez’s (AOC) brilliant speech last week in response to two attacks by her colleague, Ted Yoho, a Congressional representative from Florida. Some are calling her speech the best statement of feminist (and even specifically Catholic) values in generations.

Both attacks on AOC occurred on the Capitol steps where Yoho first accosted her directly, calling her “disgusting” for suggesting a connection between poverty and NYC’s rising crime rate. He then turned from his flabbergasted colleague and within earshot of a reporter called her a “f_cking b_tch.”

Ocasio Cortez delivered her now famous response after Yoho offered what everyone described as a “non-apology.” It’s that pretense that I want to focus on here.

That’s because this week’s Sunday readings highlight the issue of hunger and poverty – the issue that precipitated Yoho’s anger. And following his disingenuous remarks the congressman was asked to resign from a position he held on the board of directors of Bread for the World (BftW), a Christian organization focused (according to its literature) on “working to make hunger, poverty, and opportunity a priority for candidates. We are moved by God’s grace in Jesus Christ to work for justice for hungry people in our country and around the world.”

Yoho’s words also deserve attention this Sunday, because of his self-identification with a type of Christianity that sharply contrasts with the Bread for the World approach.  Adherents to Yoho’s brand of faith might be called “small god Christians” – at least when compared with the immensely generous God depicted in today’s readings and embraced by BftW.

Yoho’s Non-Apology

Let’s start by recalling Mr. Yoho’s non-apology. Although his brief statement’s ambiguities and irrelevancies reveal an evidently hasty composition, Congressman Yoho’s self-defensive remarks might be fairly summarized in about a dozen points. Taken together, they unrepentantly underline his supposed respectfulness, innocence, heroism, and devotion to family, country, and God.

His Commitment to Respect  

  1. I apologize for my abruptness with Representative Ocasio Cortez.
  2. Political differences should not lead to disrespect.
  3. My 45-year marriage and fathering 2 daughters have made me aware of my language.

His Innocence

  • What I said to others about Rep. Ocasio Cortez was misreported and misinterpreted by the press.
  • And I apologize for the media’s error.

His Heroism

  • I am passionate about the poor.
  • My wife and I were once poor ourselves.
  • However, we pulled ourselves up by sheer hard work.
  • That proves that any else can do the same without breaking the law.

His Admirable Devotion

  1. Such passion and bootstrap convictions will continue to inform my positions in policy debate.  
  2. They also express my love for my family, my country, and God.
  3. There is no need to apologize for any of that.

Readers should note that in his “apology,” Mr. Yoho uses that key word three different times. With the first, he expresses remorse for his abruptness (not for actually calling his colleague a “f_cking b_tch”). He is also sorry for the errors of the press in reporting his words (i.e., for the alleged mistakes of others, not his own.) Thirdly, without helping his listeners understand the connections, Mr. Yoho actually refuses apology, as he says, for his passion, loving his family, his country, and God.

Small god Christians

It’s that reference to God at the end of his remarks that deserves special comment. In these Sunday remarks, the allusion contextualizes everything else. It also illustrates the tininess of the god worshipped by what I’m calling here, “small god Christians.” (Today’s readings call us to something infinitely grander.)

Notice that Mr. Yoho’s focus is on law, self-justification, family, his own district’s constituents, his nation, and even (with his dog-whistle disconnections between poverty and crime) on his race and class. Presumably, that too is the focus of the god the congressman and his faith community worship.

That’s what I mean by small god Christians and their sharp contrast with the biblical God described below in today’s biblical selections. Small-godders are ethnocentric. Unlike Jesus [who said law was made for human beings, not the reverse (Mark 2:27)] they are law-and-order people. The object of their faith is essentially concerned with “Americans,” and has little or no concern for others, especially if those foreigners belong to other religions – let alone if they are Muslims.  

Little-godders are also (according e.g., to the self-identification of Catholic Attorney General William Barr) “micro-moralists.” They are convinced that the Christian Gospel is limited to matters of personal morality and has nothing to do with social justice. Even more narrowly, they focus on the single issue of abortion as overriding every other moral concern.

Accordingly, small-godders find themselves able to support a candidate like Mr. Trump despite his lifelong problems with marital fidelity, his self-identification as a sexual predator, his association with and sympathy for convicted pedophiles, and his appointment of a Secretary of State who brags about lying, cheating, and stealing. All is forgiven, as long as any candidate is anti-abortion, which is nowhere in the Bible even identified as a moral issue.

That’s the small and morally challenged nature of small god Christianity.

The Generous Biblical God

Now compare all of that with the infinite reality some (as in the Judeo-Christian tradition) call “God.” Immediately below you’ll find his her/his description in this Sunday’s readings. I’ve “translated” them as usual but recommend that everyone read the originals here to see if I’ve got them right.

Note how that God has constructed what some have called a Gift Economy. In that arrangement, everything is free for everyone – with special emphasis on the poor, widows, orphans, and immigrants. Yes immigrants! Biblically speaking, they (the poor) are the special focus of God’s attention and Yeshua’s preaching of Yahweh’s Kingdom (Luke 4: 18). Those who justify themselves as self-made and self-sufficient are ridiculed (Luke 18:9-14).

Isaiah 55: 1-3: In God’s order everything is free for the poor and exploited. Our Mother’s is a gift economy prioritizing the needs of the destitute (not the rich) and insured through laws enforced by government. Water, bread, milk and even the finest wines are provided to everyone without charge.

Psalm 145: 8-9, 15-18: Yes, because She is gracious, merciful and kind, our Divine Mother feeds us and answers all our needs without charge, exactly as She does for the birds, animals, trees and grass. Free food is a matter of God’s generosity, justice and truth. We are all so grateful.

Romans 8: 35, 37-39: Yeshua embodied our Great Mother’s Gift Imperative. We love him for that; we love our Mother for that. So, even though the world’s contradictory ways impose anguish, distress, famine, nakedness, danger and violence, we refuse to abandon the ideal of free food and drink for everyone.      

Matthew 14: 13-21: You say it’s impossible? Recall Yeshua’s “miracle of enough.” When everyone was hungry in the desert, his example of sharing five loaves and two fish caused the provident Jewish mamas there to follow suit by sharing the food they brought along. They turned a desperate crisis into an unforgettable picnic. It was a miracle!

Conclusions

With its self-justification, ethnocentrism, single issue and unbiblical micro-morality, small god Christianity contradicts the One described and exemplified so marvelously in our readings for the day.

Granted that in the Bible’s “battle of the gods” as depicted in last week’s homily, we also find more narrow, ethnocentric concepts of God in that ancient Book’s description of Israel’s long drawn out search for what we’re all looking for – meaningful lives and right relationship with what’s ultimately important in the universe.

However, the Yeshua tradition clarifies the resulting confusion. The Great Master himself turns out to encourage everything that contradicts small-godders as represented in the words of Congressman Yoho and by less enlightened figures in the Bible.

As I pointed out last week, Yeshua incarnates the real causes of hunger and poverty – houselessness (at his birth), immigration (in Egypt), rejection by his community and family (Luke 4: 14-30, Mark 3: 12-20), investigation by the state, torture and ultimately, capital punishment.

That Yeshua has nothing to do with a small god.

As for Mr. Yoho and Bread for the World. . . We can safely assume that he brought his small god approach into board meetings at that organization too. That’s what the small-godders do in such venues. They attempt to shrink to size the generous God that non-profits like BftW promote. At their directors’ table, you can bet that he was as adamant about self-sufficiency, micro-morality, and American-centered law and order just as he’s been each day in the U.S. House of representatives.

Again, that’s the mission of small-godders. Don’t let it be yours.

Why Not Kill Them All: Abortionists, Soccer Moms and God?

Anti-abortion extremism is in the news again. (Does it ever disappear?) As everyone knows by now, it’s because right-wing lawmakers in Alabama have advanced a law banning abortion at every stage of pregnancy – from the moment that sperm fertilizes egg. The law makes no exceptions for rape or incest.

In terms of logic, the law can easily be debunked as literally absurd. In terms of theology (and remember, the question of abortion has been shaped by theology, regardless of what we might think about that fact) the law makes God himself (sic) deserving of capital punishment. Finally, in terms of the U.S. Constitution, criminalizing abortion contradicts the First Amendment which explicitly states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

To clear the air of confusion and to clarify the concept of pro-life itself, let’s consider each one of those points.

Logic

To begin with, consider the law’s logical inconsistency. It begins by holding that abortionists are killers deserving capital punishment. Its reasoning runs as follows: (1) Abortion is murder, (2) But all murders are capital crimes; deserving capital punishment; (3) Therefore abortion-providers should be punished by execution or life imprisonment.

Strangely, the woman who seeks an abortion finds no place in that logic. I say “strangely,” because her exclusion doesn’t make sense according the syllogism just referenced. Murder is murder. And legally speaking, employing a hit-man to kill another person makes the employer guilty of conspiracy to commit murder regardless of who actually pulled the trigger. Both contractor and contractee deserve the same punishment. Since it’s the woman who employs the murderer, why not execute her or imprison her for life, the same as the abortionist?

The answer is because doing so would be absurd. It would be politically untenable.

Virtually no one in the electorate would support it – especially in the light of polls showing that 80% of Americans believe abortion should be legal. Seventy-one percent oppose overturning Roe v. Wade – including 52% of Republicans.

Imprisoning abortion-providers might be one thing. But imagine, if legislators proposed filling jail cells with all the soccer moms among those responsible for the at least 45.7 million abortions performed since 1973 and the passage of Roe. Hundreds of thousands of moms in prison for life wouldn’t make sense. It is patently absurd.  It wouldn’t be acceptable to anyone.

But think a little further about those numbers. They are familiar to us, because “pro-birthers” usually employ them to train focus on the zygotes and fetuses in question. However, the numbers can also suggest something else.

Exchange the viewpoint of zygotes and fetuses for that of our mothers, wives, daughters and sisters who’ve undergone the procedure. If the fundamentalists are right, the sheer numbers mean that millions of the women we love are actually murderers. Millions of them over the last nearly 50 years have committed murder and, according to fundamentalist logic, deserve capital punishment – no less than the others on death row. Again, murder is murder. And in the case of abortion, the scale of the slaughter collectively perpetrated by the women we sleep with is beyond compare. It means that American women – women throughout the world – women in general – cooperate in mass murderers dwarfing the crimes of Hitler!

Logically speaking, all of that – treating abortion as murder, punishing abortion providers as capital criminals, refusing to do the same for the women employing them, and identifying millions of women throughout the world as evil murderers (while saying not a word about the men who impregnate them) – reduces to the absurd the position that abortion is murder.

In fact, it constitutes the very definition of logic’s reductio ad absurdum that proves the falsity of an argument by demonstrating that its conclusion is completely untenable. In other words, when you put words to it and draw the logical conclusions, the contentions of the pro-birthers sound absolutely crazy to almost everyone. Case closed.

Theology

And that brings us into the field of theology.

For Catholic moralists, commonly shared perception like that just referenced is called the “sensus fidelium.” Sensus fidelium refers to ordinary people’s conclusions about matters of faith and morals (such as abortion). It refers to conclusions based on common sense rather than the arguments of the experts including theologians. Catholic doctrine regards such agreement as infallible.

But here I’m suggesting a unique kind of sensus fidelium – one accessible primarily to women and their special ways of knowing. After all, male legislators cannot possibly understand women’s physiology, biological processes, psychology, or moral sensitivities in the same way as women.

In other words, women are a uniquely privileged reference group. However, because of the domination of theology (and politics!) by men, the latter act as if they know better than women. As a result, women are treated in effect as pre-rational children in need of direction by the culture’s patriarchs. (This, perhaps, offers another explanation of the disparate treatment of abortion-providers and women seeking abortion. The women in question are not truly responsible moral agents.)

To correct such imbalance, women of all faiths (and none) and not just Christian men should be in charge of any reasoning about and regulations of abortion. At the very least, such women deserve a decisive place at the table where theologians, ethicists and legislators discuss the question. If that were the case, another reductio ad absurdum would soon come to light – this one specifically theological. It would be that God Himself (sic) is the world’s abortionist-in-chief responsible for filling sewers with aborted babies.

What I mean is that according to medical researchers spontaneous abortion is the “predominant outcome of fertilization.” At least half of fertilized eggs are simply flushed down the toilet without their “mothers” even aware of their presence. They never knew they were pregnant in the first place.

If (as pro-birthers maintain) God is responsible for and cares about every fertilized egg, the conclusion is inevitable. God is a wholesale abortionist. Like all abortionists, he deserves the fate that death-of-God theologians declared fifty years ago.

(As a matter of fact, understanding God according to the absurdities just described might well be responsible for the rejection of his existence by rational adults. The fundamentalists themselves may have unwittingly but effectively executed him!)

Constitutional Considerations

What all of this means is that the recently passed Alabama law is unconstitutional, since imposes on Christians and non-Christians alike a particular religious (and therefore unproveable) theory about God’s role in the initiation of specifically personal life.

As we’ve seen, the particular theory arbitrarily holds that each fertilized egg is a unique human person with an immortal soul wedded exclusively to that particular fertilized ovum. The theory further holds that when the ovum in question dies, the soul’s God-intended purpose is forever frustrated. The world is forever deprived of the aborted-one’s unique gifts, which God cannot or will not supply through another person.

The idiosyncrasy of that position is unmistakable. As is the case with other faiths, one could easily understand early abortion as not that important in God’s grand scheme of things. A soul prevented from incarnating in one form could just as easily be imagined as appearing in another – when its time is right.

In other words, and more specifically, the theory that life begins when sperm fertilizes egg is not at all generally shared even across religions, much less by agnostics and atheists. For instance, some locate the beginning of personal life at the moment of “quickening” (when the mother first feels her baby move), others identify it with viability outside the womb, still others with actual emergence from the womb, or (as with some Native Americans) with the “painting” of the emergent child to distinguish it from animals.

Given such differences, it seems clearly unconstitutional to impose the view of one religion on an entire culture. We might expect such preference of one religious view over others from the Taliban. But it has no place in a governed by a constitution with the First Amendment quoted earlier in this essay.

Conclusion

The bottom line here is that in a diverse country like our own, some form of legislation like Roe v. Wade might be the best we can do. There it was determined that the pregnant woman as moral agent can decide about abortion on her own during the first trimester and in consultation with her physician during the second. In the third trimester, however, the state asserts its interest and can make laws restricting abortion to protect the woman’s health and the potentiality of human life.

However, a Roe v. Wade approach can never be sufficient for genuine pro-life advocates. For them, abortion law must be complemented by social programs that provide a welcoming atmosphere for all life forms. These would provide free counselling and pre- natal care for pregnant mothers along with post-natal services for their newborns. Job provisions would be available for new mothers along with free daycare for their pre-school children. Programs would also include low cost housing and (where necessary) help paying grocery bills. All such measures are genuinely pro-life. They not only discourage abortion; they also create a welcoming environment for new life.

However, don’t expect Alabama politicians to endorse such measures. For them, pro-life concern ends at birth. Afterwards, the burden must be assumed entirely by the mothers in question.

Benedictine Sister Joan Chittister has called such typically male attempts to evade responsibility by its true name. She wrote:

“I do not believe that just because you’re opposed to abortion, that that makes you pro-life. In fact, I think in many cases, your morality is deeply lacking if all you want is a child born but not a child fed, not a child educated, not a child housed. And why would I think that you don’t? Because you don’t want any tax money to go there. That’s not pro-life. That’s pro-birth. We need a much broader conversation on what the morality of pro-life is.”

Report from France: “Yellow Vest” Revolutionary Unity and Its Lessons for Americans

Over Christmas, my daughter and son-in-law took us all on a ski vacation in the French Alps followed by a full week in Paris. Since at my stage of life, skiing is no longer advisable, I decided to focus instead on looking into the country’s Gilet Jaune (GJ) protest movement that’s shaken France to the core.

So, for several months before leaving the U.S., I studied French each day trying to recover the little I retained from 7 years (!) of extended formal French study 3 in high school and 4 in college.

And then, once in France, while my sons, son-in-law, and 4 grandchildren were on the slopes, I studied up on the Gilet Jaunes themselves I read about them in French newspapers, watched TV coverage of their demonstrations,and tried to join them in Albertville my first Saturday in the country, in the Champs Elysee on New Year’s Eve, and in front of the Hotel de Ville my final day in Paris.

As an activist and student of the left, my point was to become a kind of accidental reporter covering a phenomenon that has seen hundreds of thousands of political protestors in the streets across a country whose history since 1789 has given it quasi-ownership rights to the word “revolution.”

Dressed in the yellow safety vests that French drivers are required to wear in case of highway emergencies, the GJs are stopping traffic on busy roadways. They’re occupying toll booths to allow travelers escape from burdensome fees. Some see them as suggesting a “Frexit” that may mirror the UK’s recent Brexit withdrawal from the European Union.

Interviewing those protestors, some U.S. ex-patriots, teachers, and small businesspeople, as well as reading those newspapers and attending GJ protests have all made it clear to me that the Yellow Vests have valuable lessons to teach Americans about overcoming our current political fragmentation. The GJs suggest that it’s possible for both left and right extremes of our own political spectrum to cooperate for mutual benefit regardless of positions even on divisive issues like abortion, gun control, immigration, violence and terrorism.

The Yellow Vest Phenomenon

In the U.S. the GJ movement is typically reported by the Fox News right and even by “progressives” in terms of identity politics. It’s a rebellion, we’re told, against an “eco-tax” on diesel fuel. According to this view, the Yellow Vest rebels are part of a culture war pitting climate skeptics against a government whose vision has been captured by environmental extremists.

Such identification of the GJs with right-wing politics is adopted with good reason. French President Emmanuel Macron lent it credence in his annual New Year’s Eve address. There, he identified the Yellow Vests as “hateful” enemies of the state, of Jews, the media, homosexuals, and of law and order itself.

A more comprehensive view however, was inadvertently suggested by an American ex-pat living in Paris. At first, she described the Yellow Vests as “exactly the same as the U.S. Occupy Movement.” By the end of the interview, however, she portrayed it as mimicking the Republican Tea Party.

In my assessment, both evaluations are accurate. That is, far from being either predominantly conservative, liberal or radical, the Yellow Vest Movement is an all-sides rebellion against neo-liberal globalism itself. It has brought together forces on both the left and right extremes of the French political spectrum. Le Monde describes them as “retirees, the unemployed, poor workers, small businesspeople, and the self-employed within the gig economy.” It’s as if the Occupy Movement had united with Tea Partiers.

In terms understandable to Americans, yellow in France has become the new purple with each shade contributing from its corresponding degree of political consciousness. Right wingers like Marine Le Pen see the Yellow Vests as a protest against open borders that allow foreigners to corrupt French culture. Left wingers see it more broadly as a rejection of a globalism that accords free mobility to capital, while forbidding such movement to labor from France’s former colonies.

All sides see GJs as repudiating the status quo. And they’re working together to overthrow it. Therein lies the lesson for Americans. The lesson is that recognizing broad class interests as opposed to narrow and exclusionary identity-politics can unite normally fragmented citizens against a tyrannous plutocracy that is crushing us all.

The Real Yellow Vest Issues

Yes, a fuel tax purporting to address climate change was the precipitating “last straw.” But the tax was galling not because the French are climate-change deniers, but because it regressively impacted low-income workers living outside of the country’s big cities and dependent on auto commutes to get to work. It’s those people from the French countryside who constitute the majority within the Yellow Vest movement.

That’s because the government had persuaded commuters in France to switch to diesel cars as cheaper and more environmentally-friendly than gas guzzlers. Then, as diesel fuel became more expensive, the government reversed course on diesel cars. Suddenly, the vehicles were a major part of the climate problem.

Additionally, the revenue gathered by the fuel tax was never intended to advance the cause of alternative energy sources. Instead, it would revert to the general fund and end up in bank coffers as loan repayment. In other words, the bankers and their rich cronies who have recently been awarded huge tax reductions, would actually benefit from the fuel tax. Meanwhile, its pain would be felt by those already suffering from austerity measures imposed by the European Union following capitalism’s world-wide recession in 2008.

There’s also concern here about immigration. Open borders across the E.U. are changing the nation’s identity. Additionally, the creation of immigrants and refugees by climate chaos, poverty, and the post-2008 economic depression in France’s former colonies are all contributing to the identity-crisis syndrome decried by the French right-wing.

Nonetheless, ever class-conscious, and with their traditionally strong socialist and communist historical ties, the French (with 80% public approval) have apparently drawn conclusions about root systemic causes. And they’ve taken to the streets. To repeat, this is class struggle that transcends identity politics. Across the political spectrum, those on the left and those on the right are upset about:

· The emerging perception that the E.U. (like free-trade agreements everywhere) is geared towards disempowering the working class while enriching transnational corporations

· The rich not paying their fair share

· Resulting wealth inequality

· Wages that have not kept up with living-costs

· Austerity measures that threaten social programs like universal health care, public education, government-sponsored child care, and month-long worker vacations

· An educational system that devalues teachers, overloads their classrooms, and pays them poorly

Yellow Vest Lessons for Americans

As I said, all of this contains lessons for Americans fragmented into political siloes where the working class (those whose income is dependent on wages) are schooled to identify other workers as our enemies rather than our wealthy bosses, corporatists and financiers. Rightists tell us that our enemies are immigrants and people of color. Leftists say they are patriarchs, gun-rights advocates, and pro-lifers. Gilet Jaunes disagree. They say that the real enemy is what the Occupy Movement identified as the richest 1%; they are the corporate elite, our employers. The GJs would instruct us to get out into the streets and embrace what unifies the working class rather than what divides us on issues such as:

· Abortion: It’s time for grass-roots pro-choice and anti-abortion activists to join forces on the shared terrain of respect for human life. On that score, we are not each other’s enemies. Accordingly, the Gilets Jaunes implicitly invite us all to provisionally bracket the contentious issue on which we’ve been led to disagree so strongly. It’s time, they imply, to join forces to oppose the military-industrial concerns that spend billions to destroy human life for vaguely-defined and questionably-achievable purposes. Their bombings and drone attacks liquidate human life in the wombs of bombing victims as well as in homes, schools, churches, mosques, temples, hospitals, restaurants, and on farms where other wage-earners like the rest of us gather for peaceful domestic purposes. All of us share those purposes. In that sense, we are all pro-life.

· Gun Control: On New Year’s Eve, I attended what I thought would be a GJ protest in the Champs Elysees. The police were out in force on behalf of a government seen as coddling the rich at the expense of the working class. The heavily-armed gendarmes frisked us all before entering the Parisian equivalent of Times Square. In another demonstration (the day I left the country) the police tear gassed everyone as more than 5000 of us rallied outside the French President’s offices in the Hotel de Ville. The Robocop’s menacing presence made me wonder (along with Chris Hedges and Paul Craig Roberts) why we working-people and pensioners allow such service “dogs” (as the rich characterize their own police) to routinely beat and otherwise abuse us without response-in-kind. I found myself ruminating about the historical wisdom of gun-rights advocates. They embrace the history lesson that nothing usually changes until the battered have risen up and retaliated against police goons and strung politicians from the lampposts. Without advocating such violence, the over-the-top response of police in the Champs Elysees and before the Hotel de Ville represented for me another GJ invitation. It was to recognize common ground with those previously seen by leftists as enemies and nothing more. It may be time, the Yellow Vests imply, for gun-control advocates to enter serious and respectful dialog with those they’ve previously seen only as deplorable enemies. Perhaps there’s more wisdom than pacifists have been willing to recognize in Thomas Jefferson’s dictum that the tree of liberty must periodically watered with the blood of tyrants.

· Violence: Relatedly, I found it interesting how opponents of the Yellow Vests routinely attempt to discredit them by characterizing GJ demonstrators as “violent.” Ignored in the accusation is the critical point that any violent attacks by demonstrators on property or on the police is only one form of violence. More accurately, the GJ acts in question are often likely the work of agents provocateursBut even if not, they certainly represent a reaction to a first act of violence in the form of the structural arrangements that precipitated the Yellow Vest movement in the first place. As described to me by a Paris university professor, those structures underpay workers and make it impossible for their children to attain the classic “French Dream” of liberty, equality, and fraternity. They impose austerity measures that deprive pensioners of a decent living and give rise to the widespread homelessness I witnessed on Paris streets and under the city’s bridges. All such inherently violent arrangements dwarf the broken store windows that the GJs are blamed for. And then there’s the third level of violence that critics routinely fail to recognize the outrageous police response to the Gilet Jaunes mentioned above. (I can still smell the tear gas.) The bottom line here is that the state, not the protestors, represents the most prominent purveyor of violence in this French context. Insisting on recognizing this habitually overlooked fact can go a long way towards defusing disagreements between leftists and their right-wing counterparts sparked by a one-dimensional approach to the divisive issue of “violence.”

· Immigration: What the left characterizes as xenophobia is really an implied, mostly unconscious, but highly accurate perception by the right that corporate globalization is totally impractical. It is founded on a fundamental contradiction. That inconsistency claims to champion “free market capitalism.” Yet such economic arrangement accords unrestricted freedom of movement across borders to only one element of the capitalist equation, viz. to capital itself. Meanwhile, labor, the other equally important factor in the system is forbidden such mobility (in the United States) and is restricted to other members of the E.U. on the continent. When the world’s labor force (in the former colonies) intuits the injustice of such double-standard when it votes with its feet to appropriate for itself the privileges routinely accorded capitalists all of us are made to recognize the unworkability of current forms of corporate globalization. The same is true of refugees caused by climate change and resource wars. Like free trade agreements, both are intimately connected with current forms of globalization. Such recognition in turn reveals a common struggle shared by both the political right and left. Following GJ partisans, our focus should correspondingly shift from villainizing fellow workers who happen to be immigrants to the corporatists who exploit both them and us by their destructive trade alliances. Invariably, those pacts benefit the 1% rather than those they (dis)employ. In other words, massive immigration should drive all of us to oppose reigning models of free trade and their destructive impact on workers everywhere as well as on human habitat.

· Terrorism: Something similar can be said of the war on terror. Those whom our leaders would have us fear as “terrorists” are arguably patriots desiring to “Make the Caliphate Great Again (MCGA). Often, they are partisans claiming ownership of their homelands. They’re Pan Arabs who envision an “Arabia for Arabs,” rather than for oil-thirsty westerners whose culture contradicts the values and monumental historical achievements of Islam in science and culture. At the very least, the so-called “terrorists” represent blowback against western aggression epitomized in the invasion of Iraq, the greatest war crime of the twenty-first century. Donald Trump’s MAGA supporters should be able to recognize such common ground both with MCGA enthusiasts and with anti-war activists in the United States. Once joined there, both the U.S. left and right could further cooperate in advocating reinvestment of what used to be called “the peace dividend” in a Green New Deal and its benefits for wage earners of every political stripe.

Conclusion

My accidental research project in France has given me hope. It’s helped me see as unnecessary the counter-productive divisions between descendants of Tea Party Activists and of their counterparts in the Occupy Movement. Actually, we have more in common than we might think. It’s the powers-that-be who want us fragmented and at each other’s throats!

If we could but recognize our points of unity, rather than the ideological fissures we’ve been schooled to cherish, we might well be as successful as today’s French Revolutionaries in making politicians more receptive to the real issues that unite wage earners across the country and throughout the world.

After all, polls across the political spectrum indicate we all want similar outcomes. We all want profound change that disempowers the world’s 1% and spreads around the wealth we’ve all produced, but that has instead been funneled upwards to the plutocrats.

Above all, adopting the cooperative spirit of the Gilet Jaunes means finding an alternative to the neo-liberal form of capitalism with its dreadful austerity measures. It’s destroying the planet and making paupers of us all.

Abortion: Should a Man’s Wallet Be More Private, Free, and Unregulated than a Woman’s Womb?

Chittister 2

My recent post, “Face It: Donald Trump Is Right about Abortion” drew many responses. (You can read more than 100 of them here.) One comment characterized my position there as “radically pro-choice.” Someone else called it “pro-abortion.”

However, it was not my intention (especially as a Catholic moral theologian) to write a piece that might be interpreted in those ways.

No, I was simply attempting to show that Republican position that “abortion is murder” can be quickly reduced to the absurd.

It was ironic, I suggested, that someone as clueless as Donald Trump should end up being the agent of moral clarity. He did so by verbalizing what the standard Republican position on abortion implies, Viz. that if abortion is murder, those involved should be charged and punished accordingly.

My point was that the immediate vilification of Trump’s impolitic assertion indicated that the judgment that “abortion is murder” is untenable.

What’s not untenable however is the fact that responses to The Donald’s Trumpian logic show that the abortions debate in the public sphere needs a dose of straight talk. So let’s try that out. In the end, it pits women’s sovereignty over their wombs against men’s control of their wallets.

Begin with the fact that few people (if any) are actually pro-abortion. Invariably, it is a painful and regrettable decision usually taken with the utmost seriousness.

From there admit two other facts. One is that abortion cannot be eliminated, no matter what laws are passed. Trying to eliminate abortion is like trying to eradicate prostitution. Large numbers of people have always and will always seek abortion services. The rich will fly their wives, lovers or daughters to the Netherlands or Belgium or wherever safe abortion procedures are legally available. The poor will go to back-alley practitioners or they’ll take drugs or use coat hangers to do the job themselves.

The second undeniable fact is that we live in a pluralistic society where people of good faith find themselves on both sides of the abortion question. And this is because they differ (most frequently on religious grounds) about the key question of when specifically personal life begins. That is, few would argue that a fetus at any stage does not represent human life and should not therefore be treated with respect. No, the real question is when does fetal life become personal? The question is when does aborting a fetus become murder?

In the thirteenth century, Thomas Aquinas and others held the position that personal life began with “ensoulment,” i.e. when God conferred a soul on the developing fetus. According to Thomas, because of the high numbers of spontaneous abortions in the early pregnancy, ensoulment could not logically happen at the moment of conception. So in his patriarchal way, he conjectured it occurred for males 40 days after conception; for females it happened after 80 days. Before those turning points, there was no question of personal life.

Of course, Aquinas’ logical position is no longer held by the Catholic Church. Its official teaching is that personal life is present from the first moment of conception. This means that in a world where as many as 50% of  pregnancies end in miscarriage, half of all “people” are “aborted” spontaneously usually before the mother even knows she is pregnant.

Such facts about miscarriage have led many to conclude that personal life begins well after the moment of conception.  They locate it, for instance, at the moment of “quickening” (when the mother first feels her baby move), with viability outside the womb, with actual emergence from the womb, or (as with some Native Americans) with the “painting” of the emergent child to distinguish it from animals.

Given such differences, it seems counterproductive to impose the view of one religion on an entire culture. We might expect such imposition from the Taliban. But it has no place in a democracy characterized by separation of church and state.

Instead in a country like our own some compromise is necessary. And that is what happened in Roe v. Wade. There it was determined that in the first two trimesters, the pregnant woman can make a decision on her own and in consultation with her physician. In the third trimester, the state asserts its interest and can make laws restricting abortion to protect the woman’s health and the potentiality of human life.

However a Roe v. Wade approach can never be sufficient for genuine pro-life advocates. Abortion law must be complemented by social programs. These include pregnancy prevention measures – sex education in our public schools along with easy access to contraceptives.

Nonetheless when unplanned pregnancies occur, programs discouraging abortion needs to kick in. These would provide free counselling and pre- natal care for pregnant mothers along with post-natal services for their newborns. Job provisions would be available for new mothers along with free daycare for their pre-school children. Programs would also include low cost housing and (where necessary) help paying grocery bills.

All such measures are genuinely pro-life. They create a welcoming environment for new life.

But this is where the real debate about abortion’s relation to privacy enters the picture. Simply put the question is: which should be more vigorously protected from state intervention – a woman’s womb or a man’s wallet?

Put otherwise, the debate about life-friendly social programs pits on the one hand mostly well-to-do male legislators (in the U.S. Congress and in the Catholic Church) against poor women who cannot obtain abortions abroad. The patriarchs are quite willing to have their laws invade the privacy of a woman’s womb while defending invasion of their wallets to provide a welcoming atmosphere for all the unborn.

Benedictine Sister Joan Chittister has called such typically male attempts to evade responsibility by its true name. She wrote:

“I do not believe that just because you’re opposed to abortion, that that makes you pro-life. In fact, I think in many cases, your morality is deeply lacking if all you want is a child born but not a child fed, not a child educated, not a child housed. And why would I think that you don’t? Because you don’t want any tax money to go there. That’s not pro-life. That’s pro-birth. We need a much broader conversation on what the morality of pro-life is.”

Contributing to that broader conversation is what my controversial blog post was about. So is this one.

Tell me what you think.

Amoris Laetitia: Pope Francis’ Recent Publication is a Real Cliff-Hanger

Amoris Laetitia

It was like a cliff-hanger novel that had me on the edge of my seat. I’m talking about Pope Francis’ latest publication – his Apostolic Exhortation, Amoris Laetitia: On Love in the Family (AL). In it the pope purposed to gather the contributions of bishops at their extended Episcopal Synod which met over the last two years. The meetings were tasked with responding to the contemporary crises of the family and human sexuality including contraception, abortion, divorce, and same-sex marriages (AL 4).

The Exhortation read as if it were the plot of a Wild West thriller:

A backward town has been taken over by a gang of crooks, frauds and perverts. They’re well-entrenched. And the Black Hats have all the locals cowering behind locked doors. Unexpectedly however, a new sheriff shows up with his shiny star and white hat. The gangsters try to bribe him to join up with them. Sheriff Frank is clearly tempted throughout most of the book. But then in the final chapter, without warning he shows his true and familiar colors. In concluding scenes reminiscent of “OK Corral,” the sheriff utterly defeats the Black Hats calling on a secret weapon no one foresaw.

That’s roughly the tale of Pope Francis, his Vatican adversaries, the Episcopal Synod, and Amoris Laetitia.

Beforehand, observers knew that many of the Synod’s participants comprised a dark gang – patriarchal traditionalists stubbornly opposed to any changes in church doctrine. They would surely uphold moralist positions which Nancy Reagan expressed so well: “Just say No!” Reaffirm tradition and law, and expect the faithful meekly to obey.

At the same time, everyone was also aware that Pope Francis’ leanings were in the opposite direction. As new sheriff in town he had won the hearts of the world from the moment he uttered his first papal words identifying him with St. Francis of Assisi — the 13th century friar whose humble simplicity has rendered him the most beloved saint in all of Christian history.

The early chapters of Amoris Laetitia are like listening to the backroom argument between Sheriff Frank and those tempting him to cross over to their dark side. It’s a back-and-forth that has readers wondering which side the pope is really on.

The Black Hat Gang insists on doing things “the way they’ve always been done around here, Sheriff.” This means:

  • No change in the church’s position on contraception (AL 68, 80, 82, 222).
  • Same with abortion (42, 83).
  • Ditto for extra-marital sex (125)
  • And trans gender identifications (56)
  • “Marriage” between same sex partners has absolutely nothing to do with marriage as intended by God (52, 251,292).
  • The divorced and remarried are objectively living in conditions of sin (292).
  • Euthanasia and assisted suicide are strictly forbidden (48, 83).

Sheriff Frank seems confused at first. He retorts:

  • Remember, we’re all just wounded human beings prone to mistakes and recovering within the Church’s field hospital (291).
  • Poverty, immaturity and lack of education force people into apparently “sinful” choices only they can understand (201, 294, 295, 302).
  • Women in particular have a tough time in this “man’s world” (54, 156). Men need to listen to them (203).
  • And if we’re truly reject abortion and euthanasia, we must also firmly reject the death penalty (83).
  • Moreover, objectively speaking, second marriages following divorce are often more loving and healthier than first. The divorced and remarried are not living in sin (301).
  • As for same sex attractions and sexual transformations, remember we’re all male and female to some extent; it’s not simply a matter of biology (56, 286).
  • And none of us needs to answer everyone’s problem (2, 38). That’s what consciences are for (37).
  • Above all, remember square everything with the example of Jesus, his universal love and his prohibition about judging others (58, 79, and 250,296,308).

There’s much more to the argument. But you get the flavor.

What’s important is where the new sheriff comes down – how he defeats the Black Hat Gang in Amoris Laetitia’s happy ending. In short, he fires his “silver bullet” – MERCY. He makes an argument that can only be called a species of  “Situation Ethics.” In the end, he says, mercy dictates that:

  • Although the Black Hat Gang is correct that the objective demands of God’s law must be recognized as applying to everyone without exception (295),
  • Human beings only gradually integrate the law’s requirements over the course of their entire lives (295).
  • This means that circumstances such as immaturity, pace of moral development, lack of knowledge, appreciation of the law, along with a whole host of mitigating circumstances (302) often excuse subjects from the law’s requirements, at least temporarily (295).
  • In the end, conscience, love, and mercy [recognition of life’s “wonderful complications” (308)] are the most reliable guides we humans have (295).

That’s the pope’s final word on the contemporary crises of the family and human sexuality including contraception, abortion, divorce, and same-sex marriages.

That, after all, is about as much as Sheriff Frank or anyone can do for Catholics. The rest, as he says, is up to us – and the sovereignty of our consciences.

Face It: Donald Trump Is Right about Abortion!

Trump Abortion

Let me get this straight. Republicans in general argue that abortion is MURDER. Isn’t that so?

In fact, don’t Tea Party extremists sometimes rationalize attacking and even killing abortion providers because the latter are murderers pure and simple? Or have I been somehow misreading those pro-life posters along Interstate 75?  “ABORTION IS MURDER,” the signs announce all the way to Florida.

Yet, when Donald Trump argues that such criminality should be punished in the usual ways, the entire Republican establishment is suddenly shocked and appalled.  Of course (they’re now saying) abortion shouldn’t be treated as murder. Who could possibly make such an insensitive misogynist argument?

Say what? Am I hearing that correctly? Or is there an acoustical problem in here?  Doesn’t all of that sound suspiciously “pro-choice?”  Have Republicans suddenly found Feminist Religion?

To give my questions a finer point: Donald Trump seems merely to be drawing the logical conclusion from the continuously reiterated Republican position on abortion. Though no one (not even The Donald) is crazy enough to say it like this, the argument’s syllogism runs as follows: (1) Abortion is murder, (2).But all murders are capital crimes;  deserving capital punishment; (3) Therefore abortion should be punished by execution or life imprisonment.

Though an inevitable conclusion from the standard Republican position, such logic is scary as hell. So even crazies like Ted Cruz are running away from it.

What is the justification for the Establishment’s sudden shift?

Here’s why: the Republican Party leadership doesn’t want Donald Trump to be the GOP standard bearer next fall. He’s not electable, they think. And he’s not orthodox enough on signature Tea Party issues like well . . . abortion. (Historically, he has waffled on the topic.) So they’ll do anything to prevent his advance – even if it means fudging on one of their signature positions. They evidently hope no one will notice the hypocrisy.

However, the fact that no Republican (except for Mr. Trump) is daring or logical enough to say out loud what Republicans have insinuated all along tells us that something is drastically wrong with not with The Donald, but with the “pro-life” position itself.

In Logic the sequence is called a reductio ad absurdum – a method of proving the falsity of an argument (for instance that abortion is murder) by demonstrating that its conclusion is absurd or untenable.

In other words, when you put words to it and draw the logical conclusion, the contention of the pro-lifers that abortion is murder sounds absolutely crazy to everyone.  Few in the electorate – especially women — will support it. Case closed.

In theology, we call such agreement the “sensus fidelium.” It refers to people’s conclusions about matters of faith and morals (such as abortion) based on common sense rather than the arguments of the experts. Catholic doctrine regards such agreement as infallible.

So Mr. Trump has done it again. Until his arrival, the electorate simply hasn’t heard the absurdity of Republican positions expressed so clearly.

As with other matters (immigration, racism, free speech, torture) Donald Trump in no way deviates from standard Republican craziness. His sin (and contribution) is to expose its absolute insanity for all to see.

Thank God for Donald Trump’s logic and candor! Somehow he’s a better thinker than many of us thought.

Why Male Clerics Promote Papal Teaching on Abortion & Contraception But Not on Climate Change

Patriarchy climate change

Why is it that under Pope John Paul II and Benedict XVI Roman Catholics heard no end of sermons about the evils of contraception and abortion? And yet today we’ve heard hardly a pulpit peep about Pope Francis’ encyclical on climate change – published fully nine months ago. On the contrary, chanceries throughout the country (including the Lexington diocese) have been scrambling to sweep Laudato Si’ under the sanctuary carpet.

Could it be that Pope Francis has touched on an issue that lays moral burdens on men, their businesses and pocketbooks, and not primarily on women? The latter, of course, bear the main burden of unwanted pregnancies. So the all-male clergy has found itself courageously outspoken in defending human life, the “personhood” of fetuses (based on medieval science), and in prohibiting contraception rationalized on a similarly grounded morality of “natural law.” So, papal pronouncements about such questions are definitive, infallible, and universally binding (on women!).

Meanwhile, Laudato Si’ challenges the patriarchal economic system of capitalism, the coal and oil industries, Wall Street, and the one percent. Good Catholic men are up to their necks in all of that. So are bishops and the clergy in general.

So, the “pro-life” hierarchy hastens to distance itself from its infallible leader. They do so even though Francis claims to defend life in ways that far surpass concerns about sperm, eggs, zygotes, fetuses, and stem cell research. He’s defending the future of the planet and the human race!

An example of such double-standard is provided by the Lexington diocese’s Discovering Laudato Si’: a Small Group Discussion Guide. It not only softens Pope Francis’ teaching about climate; it actually contradicts them. For instance:

  • Pope Francis says that the issue of human caused climate change has been settled by the vast majority of climate scientists. The diocesan guide says “The debate will probably not be resolved anytime soon.”
  • Pope Francis writes that addressing the issue is “urgent” and must be confronted “here and now.” The diocesan booklet affirms that we are not called to “rush headlong into the fray. . . We have been given time to reflect, to absorb, to be transformed.” The Church’s slow response, it says, has precedent and purpose.
  • Pope Francis spends the preponderance of his encyclical addressing the structural causes of climate chaos including the unbridled market, the effects of colonialism and neo-colonialism, and even specific issues such as carbon trading. Yet the diocesan booklet says that it is not yet time for “larger responses.” In the meantime, we are told, “Pope Francis has given us many little tasks we can begin right away.” Basically they are to reduce, recycle, reuse.
  • Pope Francis celebrates climate change activists and their organizations. He quotes approvingly from their Earth Charter, recommends boycotts, and employs the language of “climate debt” borrowed from those resisting mining operations in Latin America. Yet Discovering Laudato Si’ discourages such organizing. “Fortunately,” it says, “the Pope is not calling us to ecological crusade.” Joining movements, it adds, is worse than doing nothing.

While all this hesitancy and caution in defense of LIFE writ large? Why the endless chatter about moral obligations primarily directed at women?

Might it be that a pope has finally said something that threatens patriarchy?

As they say, if men could get pregnant, abortion would be the eighth sacrament.

The Pope’s Address to Congress: First Impressions

Pope Congress 2

It was a fabulous speech by the world’s leading spiritual and thought-leader, who has just produced our century’s most important public document, Laudato Si’, the papal encyclical on the environment.

Pope Francis addressed not just the dignitaries in the Senate chambers, but all of us – parents struggling to support families, social activists, the elderly and the young.

The pope emphasized communitarian values: dialog, the common good, solidarity, cooperation, sharing, and the Golden Rule.

He held up for emulation four counter-cultural heroes he understood as embodying the most admirable of “American” values. They weren’t Rockefeller, Reagan, Jobs, or even FDR. Instead they were:

  1. Abraham Lincoln: the champion of liberty for the oppressed
  2. Martin Luther King: the advocate of pluralism and non-exclusion
  3. Dorothy Day: the apostle of social justice and the rights of the poor
  4. Thomas Merton: the Cistercian monk who embodied openness to God and the capacity for inter-faith dialog.

Of course, Lincoln and King were victims of assassination for championing the rights of African Americans.

Day and Merton vigorously resisted what Dorothy Day called “this filthy, rotten system.” (As is well-known, she was also an unwed mother whose first pregnancy ended in abortion.)

Following the examples of The Four, the pope called for the end of:

  • Fundamentalisms of every kind – including economic fundamentalisms
  • Political polarizations that prevent opposing parties from dialog and cooperation
  • Exclusion of immigrants by a nation of immigrant descendants
  • Capital punishment and its replacement by programs of rehabilitation
  • The global arms trade and arms sales in general along with the wars and violence they stimulate
  • Violent conflict and its replacement by difficult but essentially diplomatic process of dialog
  • The human roots of climate chaos and the related problems of poverty
  • Unlimited and directionless development of technology

Throughout this gentle but radical speech, the audience seemed to be waiting for the other shoe to drop – i.e. for the pope to mollify his conservative critics by addressing their favorite “religious issues” contraception, abortion, gay marriage. But the shoe never hit the floor.

At two points the pope about to untie his footwear. In mid-speech, he stated that we must protect and defend human life at every stage of its development. This lured his audience into a standing ovation.

However, the illustration of his point was not abortion, but capital punishment. Punishment for crime, Francis said, must never exclude hope and rehabilitation. We must end the death penalty, he asserted, since every life is sacred.

Then towards the end of his address, Francis spoke of his anticipated presence at this weekend’s Philadelphia Conference on the family. Families, he said, are threatened as never before, both from within and without.

But then, instead of addressing gay marriage, the pope spoke of the “most vulnerable” in this context – not the unborn, but “the young” threatened by violence, abuse and despair. Many of them hesitate to even start families, he lamented – some because of their own lack of possibilities. Others demur because they have too many possibilities. “Their problems are our problems,” the pope said. We must address them and solve their underlying causes.

It was a masterful speech. It continually lured conservatives into standing ovations for issues they constantly oppose: the end of the capital punishment, protection of the environment, openness to immigrants, the end of arms sales of all kinds. The address summoned legislators to their real responsibility – pursuing the common good, the chief aim, the pope said, of all politics.

The pope’s basic message was be daring and courageous – like the counter-cultural activists, Lincoln, King, Day, Merton, and (I would add) Pope Francis!